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How to get a COVID-19 booster shot in Massachusetts

COVID-19 vaccine vials. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
COVID-19 vaccine vials. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

All vaccinated Massachusetts residents 18 years or older are now eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccine boosters.

The vaccines continue to provide strong protection against the most severe cases of COVID-19 without a booster shot. However, public health experts are beginning to see reduced protection from mild and moderate cases of COVID-19, particularly among some populations such as people who are older or immunocompromised.

All three vaccines — Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson — are now authorized in the U.S. for boosters. On Nov. 19, the CDC expanded the group of people it recommends receive a booster shot to all adults. Earlier in the month, a number of governors (including Gov. Charlie Baker) had already begun offering boosters to residents out of a concern the eligibility criteria would create confusion and fear of COVID-19 case counts going up in the winter months.

There has been ongoing debate about the need for boosters, as The New York Times reported. The main questions center on whether everyone really needs one, and the limited amount of data available on the effectiveness of COVID boosters. As we've seen throughout the pandemic, the science is happening in real time, so there's a lot we're still learning.

Who Should Get A Booster?

If you're 18 or older and got the single-shot J&J vaccine, the CDC recommends another shot two months after the initial dose. That's because studies have shown this vaccine is slightly less effective than the two-shot Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.

Dr. Peter Hotez, co-director of the Center for Vaccine Development at Texas Children's Hospital, told WBUR's Here & Now that if you originally got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, you should think of another shot as a way to correct for the first shot's limitations.

The first shot was about 70% protection against symptomatic illness; getting another bumps the protection up to 90%, Hotez says.

"The J&J, it's not really a booster, it's sort of an auto-correction," he added. "This probably always was a two-dose vaccine; it's not that protection is waning, it's just that it's better as a two-dose vaccine."

If you're 18 or older and got the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines, the CDC recommends a third shot six months after your second dose.

While experts now say all adults could benefit from a booster shot, the added protection is especially important for those who are over the age of 65, who have a compromised immune system or who live in a group setting.

Which Shot Should You Get?

The CDC says it "allows" for the mixing and matching of shots — meaning you could get a different brand of booster from your original vaccine. For example, if you received your first two shots of Pfizer, it's OK to get the Moderna booster.

Dr. Gabriela Andujar Vazquez, of Tufts Medical Center, told WBUR's Radio Boston that the key word in the CDC's announcement was "allow" — rather than "recommend."

"I think that a lot of us were advocating to have a little bit of leeway," she said. "So it allows for the possibility of doing mix-match in certain situations where there is no other alternative."

This gives flexibility in situations like nursing homes, where only one type of booster might be provided.

This also allows for those who experienced a rare side effect to switch to a different vaccine. For example, since the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was linked to a rare blood clotting disorder in young women, that small population could opt for a different brand of booster.

Here’s Where To Get Your Booster Shot: 

In Massachusetts, you can receive a booster shot at most doctors' offices or pharmacies.

The state recommends first checking in with your primary care provider to book a vaccine appointment.

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Alternatively, you can check out vaxfinder.mass.gov to see a list of locations, like pharmacies, for the shot. If you do not have internet access, you can call the Massachusetts COVID-19 Booster Resource Line at 2-1-1. It is staffed from Monday to Thursday, 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and on weekends from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

A Few Things To Remember: 

  • Make sure to actually wait six months after your second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or two months after the Johnson & Johnson shot, before getting your booster. Experts say that getting a booster too soon could minimize its benefit.
  • Booster shots are free, and do not require proof of ID or health insurance. However, if you have insurance, the provider may request that information.
  • Doctors and clinics will not ask for your bank information or social security number.
  • The CDC says it is OK to get the flu shot at the same time as your COVID-19 booster.
  • Experts do not yet know if this will be the last booster shot, or if it will become an annual vaccination effort. Researchers are still studying how long protection lasts.
  • If you are still unvaccinated, it's not too late to get your first shot. In fact, health experts continue to emphasize the importance of giving vaccines to anyone who has not yet received them. For those in Massachusetts who want to get the first shot, visit vaxfinder.mass.gov, call 2-1-1, or talk to your doctor to schedule an appointment.

With additional reporting by The Associated Press

This article was originally published on November 05, 2021.

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Amy Gorel Twitter Digital Producer
Amy Gorel is a digital producer and editor for WBUR.

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