When Can You Get a Booster Shot?

Three ampules of COVID vaccines, two with purple caps.

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Key Takeaways

  • COVID-19 vaccine booster shots are now authorized for everyone 12 years and older in the U.S.
  • Children and teens ages 12 through 17 are only eligible for the Pfizer booster.
  • A booster has been approved for certain immunocompromised children ages 5 to 11.
  • You are eligible for a booster shot if you completed the Pfizer or Moderna primary vaccine series at least five months ago OR received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at least two months ago.
  • Adults who meet eligibility criteria can choose any of the three authorized booster vaccines, regardless of initial vaccine brand (although mRNA COVID-19 vaccines—Moderna, Pfizer—are recommended in most situations).

If you're wondering if it's time for you to get a COVID-19 booster shot, it depends on whether or not you meet eligibility criteria set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as how much time has passed since you received the final dose of your initial vaccine regimen.

There is a difference in timing that depends on whether you received either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Here's how to figure out if it's time for you to get a booster shot.

If You Got a Pfizer or Moderna Shot

If you originally received either of the mRNA vaccines, you can get a booster shot if you are 12 years and older and at least five months have passed since you received your second dose.

According to the CDC, if you are 18 years and older, the booster shot that you get does not need to be the same brand as the original vaccine that you chose. However, children and teens ages 12 to 17 who have completed Pfizer's primary series are only eligible for the Pfizer booster.

Why Five Months?

The CDC is recommending boosters five months after the second dose of both of the mRNA COVID vaccines because data on the vaccines' efficacy suggests that after that amount of time has passed, the vaccines start to offer less protection.

If You Got the Johnson & Johnson Shot

If you received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which only requires one shot, you need to wait at least two months before you can get a booster. You can get a booster shot of Pfizer or Moderna, or another Johnson & Johnson shot—however, the CDC recommends both mRNA COVID vaccines over boosting with Johnson & Johnson.

The CDC is recommending that everyone over the age of 18 who initially received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine get a booster shot after two months, preferably using either Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.

Why Two Months?

CDC data on the J&J vaccine's performance in real-world conditions showed that it was only 71% effective at preventing hospitalization from COVID-19 in adults who did not have compromised immune systems. That's compared to Moderna, which was 93% effective, and Pfizer, which was 88% effective.

David Dowdy, MD, PhD, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told Verywell that the two-month waiting period for a booster shot after getting a J&J shot is a bit arbitrary and that he thinks "it's based largely on when antibody levels tend to fall off from that initial 'pop' that you get."

Data that Johnson & Johnson reported on its vaccine efficacy showed that when boosters were given, antibody levels increased by four to six times what occurred when a single shot was given. That increase put it on par with the protection offered by Moderna and Pfizer's shots.

Less Urgency for Boosters

Dowdy said the reason booster shots are being recommended by the CDC now is that the vaccines' effectiveness wanes slightly after several months, though they are still effective at preventing severe COVID illness and hospitalization.

"The urgency to get a booster is not the same as the urgency to get the initial series for many people in the U.S. right now,” Dowdy said. “It's not that you have to run to the pharmacy and get the booster today, but it is recommended, and it probably does provide some additional protection.”

David Dowdy, MD, PhD

The urgency to get a booster is not the same as the urgency to get the initial series for many people in the U.S. right now.

— David Dowdy, MD, PhD

However, Dowdy thinks that among the general public, people who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine should consider getting a booster shot, as "there is some evidence that one dose of the J&J vaccine is a little less effective than two doses of either Pfizer or Moderna."

One concern that Dowdy has is that the focus on getting booster shots may take attention away from getting more people vaccinated with their first round of COVID-19 vaccines.

“There are still a lot of people out there who haven't been vaccinated and who might be willing to get a shot,” said Dowdy. “The benefit of the first doses is much greater than the additional benefit of a booster.”

What This Means For You

You can get a COVID-19 booster shot if you are 12 years and older, and if five months have passed since your second Pfizer or Moderna dose, or if two months have passed since your initial Johnson & Johnson dose. Pfizer is the only booster option for those aged 12 to 17, and either Pfizer or Moderna boosters are recommended over Johnson & Johnson by the CDC.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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