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10-18-21: A Moderna booster is likely on its way. Here's what's going on and what it means for you.

By Clifford Colby (Source: CNET Oct. 18, 2021)

While the US Food and Drug Administration hasn't yet authorized the Moderna booster shot, a recommendation Thursday by an independent advisory committee to the FDA is a promising start. A Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine booster shot is currently available for eligible recipients, and Johnson & Johnson's booster is also awaiting official authorization after a vote of recommendation from an FDA panel on Friday for all J&J recipients. Moderna has said the maximum effectiveness of its vaccine in guarding against serious illness could wane over time, for example, after six to eight months. A booster shot may be needed to maintain high levels of protection. At the same time, recent studies suggest Moderna's COVID-19 shot remains powerful against infection and severe illness. The delta variant surged in the US over the summer, causing a rise in case numbers, hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19. 

The vaccines that are approved by the FDA have proven to be highly effective in preventing hospitalization, and those who are unvaccinated are 10 times more likely to be hospitalized. With the new federal vaccine mandates, the Biden administration aims to counter the surge and put pressure on anyone who hasn't been vaccinated. Here's what we know right now about when you could get a Moderna booster shot, who would be eligible and where to get it. For more on COVID-19, here's the latest on COVID-19 vaccines for kids, what to do if you lost your vaccination card, the difference between a booster and a third dose, and breakthrough infections. And here's what you should know about the new federal COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

What did the FDA panel recommend for the Moderna vaccine booster?

An independent FDA panel recommended a Moderna vaccine booster for those 65 years of age and older and adults who are at high risk because of severe illness or exposure in their work setting. The recommendation now goes to FDA officials for discussion. A decision is expected in days, including determining who will be eligible for the booster and when. Earlier this month, the FDA was reportedly considering a half dose of the vaccine for the Moderna booster. Moderna's current vaccine shot is a 100-microgram dose, compared with Pfizer's 30-microgram dose. Cutting the Moderna doses in half could help reduce the risks of side effects from the booster. It would also provide more doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to help more people get the booster when it's their turn. 

Who can get a Moderna COVID-19 booster shot?

Although it's not yet available to everyone already fully vaccinated, those who are immunocompromised and are 18 years of age or older are eligible for a third Moderna dose right now. (For Pfizer, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave booster approval to those 65 and older as well as many high-risk individuals.) The FDA hasn't authorized a second dose of any vaccine for people who are immunocompromised and received Johnson & Johnson. The CDC recommends consulting with a health care provider about your medical condition and whether an additional dose is appropriate. See our guide on the COVID-19 boosters for more information on a booster shot for moderately to severely immunocompromised people.

What would a Moderna booster shot do?

A COVID-19 booster shot -- whether from Moderna, Pfizer or Johnson & Johnson -- would top off your immune response and guard against a breakthrough COVID infection as the vaccine's effectiveness decreases. Recent studies of the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines show that their effectiveness can begin to wane after six months. Moderna said early data suggests that those who received the Moderna vaccine in 2020 are showing a higher rate of breakthrough COVID infections than those vaccinated this year, suggesting the need for a booster to maintain high levels of protection. The decision whether to authorize a booster is up to the FDA, and the federal agency said this week that overall, authorized COVID-19 vaccines "still afford protection against severe COVID-19 disease and death in the United States."

Who would be eligible for Moderna's COVID-19 booster shot?

Government scientists and health care officials propose that everyone in the US who is already fully vaccinated should be eligible for a booster shot. But it's likely Moderna's booster shot would follow in the footsteps of Pfizer's, with certain groups being eligible for the third dose. Not everyone agrees, however, that we need boosters now. A group of scientists expressed concern about the administration's booster plan, arguing that "available evidence does not show the need for widespread use of booster vaccination" in the medical journal The Lancet. "Boosting might ultimately be needed in the general population because of waning immunity" but the vaccines continue to be effective against COVID-19 and the delta variant, the scientists wrote. "Current evidence does not, therefore, appear to show a need for boosting in the general population." Instead, the scientists recommend using the current supply of vaccines for those with a risk of serious disease and for those who have not yet received any vaccine. The CDC approved the Pfizer booster for the following:

  • Individuals 65 years of age and older and residents in a long-term facility.
  • Individuals 50 through 64 years of age with an underlying medical condition.
  • Individuals 18 to 49 years of age with an underlying condition if they assess their risk of infection as high.
  • Individuals 18 to 64 years who are at increased risk because of their job -- such as hospital workers, teachers or grocery store workers -- if they assess their risk of infection as high.

When will the Moderna booster shot be available?

According to White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Jeff Zients, people who received their second dose of the Pfizer vaccine at least six months ago can get the Pfizer booster shot now if they're eligible. "As soon as they are authorized, those eligible will be able to get a booster right away," President Joe Biden said during his recent speech on federal vaccine mandates. According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the president's chief medical adviser, Moderna may be a few weeks behind Pfizer's booster approval.

Will the Moderna booster be the same as the two Moderna COVID-19 shots?

Yes, almost. As with Pfizer's booster, the third Moderna shot will be the same vaccine as the first two doses, except it'll be a half dose. To make your life simpler, Moderna is also working on a combination shot that includes this year's flu vaccine and its COVID-19 booster vaccine.

Where can I get my Moderna booster shot?

According to the White House, boosters will be available at roughly 80,000 places across the country, including over 40,000 local pharmacies. Some 90% of Americans have a vaccine site within 5 miles of where they live. You can check Vaccines.gov to see which vaccines are available where, or call 1-800-232-0233 for vaccine information.

Do I have to pay for the Moderna COVID-19 booster shot?

No, the booster shot will be free regardless of immigration or health insurance status. For more on coronavirus treatments and vaccines, here's what we know about monoclonal antibody treatments, the new federal vaccine mandates and why some people may not want the shot. The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.  

Article Photo Credit: Getty