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Current Recommendations on the Fight Against COVID-19 – Booster Shots, Third Doses and Antiviral Pills: What You Need to Know

Dr. Alyssa Huncken

By Alyssa Huncken

New recommendations and therapies are emerging as new tools for our toolbox to protect people from the worst outcomes of COVID-19. The first step in preventing severe symptoms and hospitalizations is through vaccination. COVID-19 vaccination is now recommended for anyone over 5 years old.

Booster Shots

COVID-19 vaccine boosters and additional vaccine doses are now authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for certain people.

Who can get a COVID-19 vaccine booster?

The CDC and FDA now recommends anyone 18 or older is eligible for a booster dose if:

  • 6 months after completing the series of Pfizer or Moderna
  • 2 months after Johnson and Johnson

Please visit the CDC website for the latest information on vaccine boosters.

What are COVID booster side effects?

After getting vaccinated for COVID-19, you might experience some temporary symptoms similar to those you might notice when you get a flu shot, such as a sore, swollen arm where you got the shot. You might run a fever and experience body aches, headaches, and tiredness for a day or two. Chills, swollen lymph nodes can also occur.

These symptoms do not mean you are sick. They signal that your immune system is responding to the shot and building protection against the coronavirus.

Where can I get a COVID vaccine booster?

Please check your state or local resources. Retail pharmacies, physician offices, mobile vaccination clinics (walk-up) and state and local vaccination sites offer booster appointments. Some locations may offer walk-up vaccination times.

Third Doses

What is the difference between a booster and an additional dose?

A COVID-19 booster is given when a person has completed their vaccine series and protection against the virus has decreased over time. Depending on the original series you had, some details will vary. Please talk to your health care provider if you are not sure if you meet these guidelines. Please note, if you receive the Moderna booster, you will receive half of the original Moderna dose.

An additional dose is administered to people with moderately to severely compromised immune systems. This additional dose is intended to improve an immunocompromised individual’s response to his or her initial vaccine series. Depending on the original series given, some details will vary. Please talk to your health care provider if you are not sure if you meet these guidelines.

Who can get an additional dose of a COVID-19 vaccine?

The CDC and the FDA recommend an additional dose if you:

  • Have been receiving active cancer treatment for tumors or cancers of the blood
  • Received an organ transplant and are taking medicine to suppress the immune system
  • Received a stem cell transplant within the last two years, or are taking medicine to suppress the immune system
  • Are diagnosed with moderate or severe primary immunodeficiency (such as DiGeorge syndrome or Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome)
  • Are diagnosed with HIV and have a high viral load or low CD4 count, or are not currently taking medication to treat HIV
  • Are taking drugs like high-dose steroids or other medications that may cause severe suppression of the immune system

If you are not sure whether you fit into any of these categories, please contact your medical provider. For more details, please review the CDC’s information for moderately to severely immunocompromised people.

When should I get an additional dose of COVID vaccine?

If you originally received the Moderna or Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, you are eligible for an additional dose when it has been at least 28 days since your second shot.

Does my COVID booster or additional dose have to be the same brand that I got before?

No, you can mix and match brands. The FDA has authorized three vaccine boosters — Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Janssen/Johnson & Johnson — and determined that it is safe to get a COVID-19 vaccine booster or additional dose that is a different brand than your initial dose or doses. If you get the Moderna booster, you will receive half of the original Moderna dose. Please be sure to confirm this with the person giving you this shot.

Early treatment to prevent hospitalizations: Monoclonal Antibodies and Antiviral Drugs

Although there are various treatments you may receive if you are sick enough to be hospitalized with COVID-19, we have had limited treatment options to prevent hospitalizations until recently. The FDA has issued emergency use authorization for a number of monoclonal antibodies which can be given to high risk individuals via infusion or injection within the first 10 days of illness to prevent progression to severe disease. Monoclonal antibodies can also be given to individuals as post-exposure prophylaxis to prevent development of illness if you are:

  • Age 12 or over and high risk for progression to severe COVID-19 and
  • Not fully vaccinated or not expected to have adequate immune response to vaccination and
    • Have had close contact with an infected individual or high risk for exposure to infected individual because of occurrence of SARS-COV-2 infection in other individuals in institutional setting (nursing homes or prisons)

Monoclonal antibodies can be ordered and arranged by your primary care physician.

At least two oral antiviral drugs have performed well in clinical trials and show promise in reducing the risk of COVID-related hospitalization and death, Merck’s Molnupiravir and Pfizer’s Paxlovid.

Pfizer’s antiviral pill Paxlovid did in fact cut the chance of hospitalization or death for adults at risk of severe disease by 89% in their clinical trials. Paxlovid could secure U.S. regulatory approval by the end of the year. Pfizer plans to submit interim trial results to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before the November 25th Thanksgiving holiday.

The trial’s results suggest that Pfizer’s drug surpasses Merck’s pill, Molnupiravir, which was shown last month to halve the chance of dying or being hospitalized for COVID-19 patients at high risk of serious illness.

As we continue to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, we will continue to update our patients and local communities to any and all viable therapies and guidance that emerges to help us fight the battle against COVID19.

Dr. Alyssa Huncken is a Physician at Changebridge Medical Associates, a member of Consensus Health, in Montville.  Dr. Huncken, a Montville native, returned home to practicing medicine in her hometown community in December 2020.  A graduate of Montville High School, Alyssa went on to obtain her Bachelors of Science degree from Fordham University. She attended the Columbia University Post-Baccalaureate Premedical Program, where Alyssa developed her mission to serving others. Alyssa returned to New Jersey where she received her Doctorate degree from Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and completed her Residency at the Atlantic Health Overlook Family Medicine program. During her residency she was awarded the Anthony F. Coppola MD Clinical Excellence Award, which is presented to the family medicine resident whose clinical care consistently represents the highest ideals of family medicine.

Changebridge Medical Associates, a member of Consensus Health, in Montville, NJ is a primary care and family medicine practice that has been serving the local community for over 30 years.   The expert providers and staff of Changebridge Medical Associates have one priority: To provide the most thorough, compassionate, state-of-the-art medical care to their patients.  They are highly trained in diagnosing, treating, and preventing diseases and illnesses that affect your entire family.

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Changebridge Medical Associates, a member of Consensus Health
170 Changebridge Rd BLDG C3
Montville, NJ 07045
(973) 575-5540