Vaccine

Updated Sept. 24, 2021

More than 100 million Americans have received full courses of a COVID-19 vaccine.

The three vaccines available in the U.S. — Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson/Janssen (J&J) — are all safe and effective against COVID-19. They are especially effective in preventing severe illness, hospitalization, and death.

However, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and other health officials, protection from the COVID-19 vaccine can decrease over time. Some people — such as those with compromised immune systems — also may not have had a strong immune reaction to their initial doses of vaccine. And the highly contagious Delta variant (B.1.617.2) is causing COVID-19 cases to rise in the U.S. and worldwide.

With those factors in mind, many people are wondering if they need to receive an additional shot of the COVID-19 vaccine.

What Is a Booster Shot?

Protection from many vaccines begins to decrease over time. Booster shots are additional doses of a vaccine, meant to help your immune system recharge protection against the disease.

Booster shots are common for many vaccines, including:

  • Tetanus, diptheria, and pertussis (Tdap).
  • Measles-mumps-rubella (MMR).
  • Hepatitis A and B.

People often receive booster shots for vaccines throughout their lives. For instance, you may need a tetanus booster about every 10 years to ensure protection.

Never Miss a Beat!

Get Healthy Tips Sent to Your Phone!

Message and data rates may apply. Text STOP to opt out and HELP for help. Go to https://pages.upmc.com/terms for privacy and terms.

COVID-19 and Booster Shots

Factors that could influence an additional shot of the COVID-19 vaccine include:

  • Your immune system didn’t have a strong response to the initial doses of the vaccine series. This may be the case for people who are immunocompromised after receiving solid organ transplants or for other reasons.
  • Your immune system had strong protection against COVID-19 after your initial vaccine series, but it’s beginning to decrease.
  • The SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 has changed enough that another dose of vaccine is needed to protect against it.

The COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective in preventing serious infections from SARS-CoV-2 and its variants, including the Delta variant. However, it is still possible to get infected and to spread the virus — even if you’ve been vaccinated.

Will There Be a COVID-19 Booster Shot?

On Aug. 12 and Aug. 13, 2021, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that immunocompromised people who received the first two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines were eligible for an additional dose of those vaccines.

Immunocompromised people have a medical condition or treatment that impairs their immune system’s ability to fight the virus. Their immune system also may not have had a strong response to the initial vaccine series.

If you are immunocompromised, you can get a third dose of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine now. Those eligible include solid organ transplant recipients, many cancer patients, and others who are immunocompromised. For more information, visit Vaccine.UPMC.com or call 844-876-2822 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., seven days a week.

In September 2021, the FDA and CDC authorized a third dose of the Pfizer vaccine for Americans over 65 and for others at risk of COVID-19 complications. Those include residents of long-term care facilities, people with underlying health conditions, and people over 18 with jobs that put them at risk of exposure, including health care workers.

There are currently no plans for a third dose of the Moderna vaccine for people who are not immunocompromised. There also are no current plans for an additional dose of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson/Janssen (J&J) vaccine. However, that could change in the future.

Why Do We Need Another COVID-19 Shot?

The COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective, especially in preventing severe cases of COVID-19 — and deaths.

However, data suggests that protection from the vaccines may decrease over time. An additional shot can help maintain or improve your immune system’s protection against SARS-CoV-2 and its variants.

Also, research shows that some people don’t have a strong immune reaction to the initial doses of vaccine. That’s the case for many immunocompromised people, such as organ transplant recipients.

When Can I Get the Additional COVID-19 Shot?

In line with the FDA’s and CDC’s announcements, UPMC is currently offering a third dose of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to immunocompromised patients who received the first two doses.

If you are immunocompromised and would like to schedule an appointment for an additional dose, visit Vaccine.UPMC.com or call 844-876-2822 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., seven days a week.

On Sept. 17, 2021, an FDA advisory panel voted to recommend a third dose of the Pfizer vaccine for Americans who are 65 and older, and to Americans at high risk for severe COVID-19 complications. However, those third doses are not yet authorized. Currently, UPMC is only offering additional doses to immunocompromised patients and community members.

An additional dose of the J&J vaccine is not currently available.

Do I Still Need to Wear a Mask?

The vaccine represents a crucial step in preventing COVID-19. However, masking and social distancing also can provide important protection — especially if you’re immunocompromised.

After getting an additional dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, you should continue to follow any laws, regulations, or guidelines about wearing a facemask. The CDC recommends even fully vaccinated people wear a mask and physically distance while in public in areas with high rates of transmission.

At UPMC, we strongly encourage people who are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine to get vaccinated. Americans 12 and older are eligible to get the vaccine. For more information on the vaccine, visit UPMC.com/COVIDVaccine.

Sources

Alexander Muik, Ann-Kathrin Wallisch, Bianca Sänger, Kena A. Swanson, et al. Neutralization of SARS-CoV-2 lineage B.1.1.7 pseudovirus by BNT162b2 vaccine-elicited human sera. Preprint. BioRxiv. January 19, 2021. Link

Berkeley Lovelace Jr. J&J CEO says people may need annual Covid vaccine shots for the next several years. CNBC. Link

Denise Chow. Covid-19 booster shot likely needed within 12 months, Pfizer's CEO says. NBC News. Link

Ester C Sabino, Lewis F Buss, Maria P S Carvalho, Carlos A Prete Jr., et al. Resurgence of COVID-19 in Manaus, Brazil, despite high seroprevalence. The Lancet. January 27, 2021. Link

Ewen Callaway. Fast-spreading COVID variant can elude immune responses. Nature. Link

Jared S. Hopkins. Annual Covid-19 Vaccine Booster Shots Likely Needed, Pfizer CEO Says. Wall Street Journal. Link

Matthew McCallum, Jessica Bassi, Anna De Marco, Alex Chen, et al. SARS-CoV-2 immune evasion by variant B.1.427/B.1.429. Preprint. BioRxiv. April 1, 2021. Link

Mehdi Hasan. Dr. Fauci On The Latest U.S. Covid-19 Response. MSNBC. Link

Moderna CEO says booster shots will eventually be required. WDRB. Link

Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine Retains Neutralizing Activity Against Emerging Variants First Identified in the U.K. and the Republic of South Africa. Moderna. Link

National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD), Division of Viral Diseases. About Variants of the Virus that Causes COVID-19. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Link

National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. COVID-19 Breakthrough Case Investigations and Reporting. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Link

Pfizer and BioNTech initiate a study as part of broad development plan to evaluate COVID-19 booster and new vaccine variants. Pfizer. Link

Rita Rubin. COVID-19 Vaccines vs Variants—Determining How Much Immunity Is Enough. JAMA. March 17, 2021. Link

Talia Kustin, Noam Harel, Uriah Finkel, Shay Perchik, et al. Evidence for increased breakthrough rates of SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern in BNT162b2 mRNA vaccinated individuals. Preprint. MedRxiv. April 16, 2021. Link

About UPMC

Headquartered in Pittsburgh, UPMC is a world-renowned health care provider and insurer. We operate 40 hospitals and 700 doctors’ offices and outpatient centers, with locations in central and western Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, and internationally. We employ 4,900 physicians, and we are leaders in clinical care, groundbreaking research, and treatment breakthroughs. U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside as one of the nation’s best hospitals in many specialties and ranks UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh on its Honor Roll of America’s Best Children’s Hospitals.