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From the archives 2021

Eligible for a COVID-19 booster? Here’s how to get one in Pa.

by Jamie Martines of Spotlight PA |

People 65 and older, those with certain medical conditions, and workers in high-risk jobs who received a second Pfizer dose more than six months ago are now eligible to receive a booster.
Fred Adams / Spotlight PA

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This story was updated Jan. 6, 2022.

Federal guidance around COVID-19 vaccine boosters has changed significantly since the shots were rolled out to the general public this fall.

All adults 18 and older are now eligible for a booster. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance still allows for a “mix and match” approach to boosters for adults. In other words, no matter which of the three vaccines you initially received, you may choose any of the three for your booster shot.

That said, the CDC now recommends the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines over the Johnson & Johnson vaccine due to the risk of rare but serious side effects of that vaccine. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine will still be available to anyone who wants it or who cannot receive Pfizer or Moderna because of other medical conditions.

Children ages 5 and older are now eligible for the Pfizer vaccine. This is the only vaccine that has been approved for people younger than 18.

Anyone 12 and older who received a Pfizer vaccine should get a booster shot five months — rather than the previously recommended six months — after completing their initial two-dose series, according to CDC guidance released Jan. 5. A three-dose series is now also recommended for some immunocompromised children 5 to 11 years old.

Vaccines are now widely available, and it’s not likely providers will experience the same backups and shortages seen across Pennsylvania when vaccine eligibility first opened up to all adults in April, Pennsylvania officials have said.

Many retail pharmacies, such as Rite-Aid and CVS, along with grocery stores and independent pharmacies, now have same-day and walk-in appointments for first, second, and booster shots. Health systems such as UPMC, Allegheny Health Network, Penn State Health, and Geisinger are also administering boosters, along with other local health clinics and doctors’ offices.

You do not have to return to the same location where you received your first or second shots for your booster. Search for locations offering COVID-19 vaccines near you, or anywhere in the country, on the CDC’s website at vaccines.gov.

Most nursing homes will handle boosters through existing relationships with local vaccine providers, a state health department spokesperson said. The health department will assist any nursing home that is not yet connected with a local vaccine provider or pharmacy secure booster shots.

Former Acting Health Secretary Alison Beam ordered vaccine providers on Sept. 21 to offer online scheduling for booster appointments and to set up a telephone number that connects callers to a live agent to assist with scheduling. Vaccine providers were also ordered to offer walk-in appointments.

Local Area Agencies on Aging, along with Medical Assistance Managed Care Organizations, were ordered to help schedule eligible adults and people who can’t leave their homes — a role those organizations took up earlier this year, as many older adults and others who had trouble navigating the competitive vaccine sign-up system struggled to find appointments.

State officials recommend that anyone who has questions about whether they are eligible for a booster shot consult with their doctor before making an appointment.

Anyone receiving a booster should bring their vaccine card to the appointment. The provider will check to make sure that it has been the appropriate amount of time since the initial shot or shots.

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