The COVID-19 pandemic has been around for so long that we can sometimes forget that Americans are still being hospitalized with COVID-19 and dying every day. And while there are many reasons to feel optimistic about where we are today, as we head into the cold season and spend more time with others indoors, experts warn us not to get complacent about COVID-19.
Being fully vaccinated against COVID-19 is critical, as that is still the best way to protect people from severe illness, hospitalization, and death. An updated COVID booster shot, which contains protection against new Omicron subvariants that account for most new cases, is the latest tool we have in our arsenal to fight the severe effects of COVID. With fewer than 8 million Americans having received the updated booster, we have a long way to go.
Getting the latest booster should be a priority, especially for adults ages 60 and over. This age group has been particularly vulnerable to the most severe effects of COVID. Georgians ages 60 and over are more likely to be hospitalized with COVID or die from COVID than their younger counterparts according to data from the Georgia Department of Public Health. Some 80% of the 33,439 people who have died of COVID-19 in Georgia since the start of the pandemic have been people in their 60s, 70s, and 80s, according to this data.
The Atlanta Regional Commission, as the federally designated Area Agency on Aging for the 10-county metro Atlanta region, has launched a multimedia campaign this fall aimed at encouraging adults ages 60 and older to get the updated COVID-19 booster.
The campaign, titled “Life Is Better with a Boost,” is in English and Spanish and showcases this important message via billboards, newspapers, radio, transit, digital, social media, and banners at pharmacies and supermarkets across metro Atlanta.
We have compiled this “Frequently Asked Questions” to clarify any questions or confusion around the updated booster. Most of the information presented here has been curated from a variety of government sources, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, and the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.
Why is there a new booster?
The virus that causes COVID-19 continues to evolve in ways that allow new variants to evade our immune systems and render existing vaccines and boosters less effective.
On August 31, 2022, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration approved an updated booster that targets the latest Omicron subvariants. This new booster is “bivalent” – that is, a single dose is effective against both the original virus strain and new variants.
On September 8, the CDC updated its guidance on boosters, recommending the updated Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech booster for all people ages 12 and older. This recommendation followed a comprehensive scientific evaluation and robust scientific discussion.
The FDA authorization of the updated booster and the CDC’s recommendation for use are critical next steps forward in our country’s vaccination program—an effort that has helped provide increased protection against COVID-19 disease and death.
I have received two boosters. Do I need a third booster?
If you have received two COVID vaccines and two boosters, the recommendation is that you need to get the updated booster in order to be fully protected.
The protection afforded by the two original boosters is now outdated, and those boosters are no longer available.
The new COVID-19 booster can both help restore protection that has decreased since previous vaccination and provide broader protection against newer variations of the virus that causes COVID-19. The updated bivalent boosters target the most recent Omicron subvariants, BA.4 and BA.5, that are more contagious and more resistant than earlier strains of Omicron.
If I already had COVID, do I need the new booster?
Getting a COVID-19 vaccine after having COVID-19 provides added protection against the virus that causes COVID-19, including protection against being hospitalized from a new infection, especially as variants continue to emerge.
People who already had COVID-19 and do not get vaccinated after their recovery are more likely to get COVID-19 again, compared to those who get vaccinated after their recovery.
Adults ages 65 and over have pretty high rates for taking at least one dose of the vaccine. Shouldn’t that be enough? Why is it important for older adults to get the latest booster?
Your chance of getting COVID if you’re unvaccinated is much higher than if you’ve gotten all recommended doses of a COVID vaccine. And the risk for severe illness with COVID-19 increases with age. Older unvaccinated adults are more likely to be hospitalized or die from COVID-19.
The more people you interact with, the more closely you interact with them, and the longer that interaction, the more likely you are to get or spread the virus that causes COVID-19.
People aged 60 years and over, and those with underlying medical problems, such as high blood pressure, heart and lung problems, diabetes, obesity or cancer, are at higher risk of developing serious illness, according to the World Health Organization.
Do I need the new booster to be considered fully vaccinated?
You are considered up to date with your COVID-19 vaccines if you have completed a COVID-19 vaccine primary series and received the most recent booster dose recommended for you by CDC. Effectively, the updated booster is recommended for adults 60 and older, and you need to receive the new booster in order to be considered fully vaccinated.
Vaccine recommendations are based on your age, the vaccine you first received, and the time elapsed since your last dose. Check out this CDC booster tool to see when you can get a booster (scroll down to about middle of the page).
People who are moderately or severely immunocompromised have different recommendations for COVID-19 vaccines.
As with other diseases, you are protected best from COVID-19 when you stay up to date with the recommended vaccines, including boosters.
Where can I get the new booster?
Go to vaccines.gov to find a location that’s convenient for you to get your free shot. You type in your zip code and a list of nearby pharmacies and other sites where you can get your vaccine will show up. Make sure to bring your vaccination card.
You can also call 1-800-232-0233 to find a vaccine site near you.
Can I still get the original boosters if I want to?
No. People ages 12 years and older may only get the updated, bivalent Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna booster. They can no longer get an original (monovalent) mRNA booster.
The flu vaccine for this season is also available now. Can I get my COVID-19 booster and flu vaccine at the same time?
You can combine most procedures, screenings, and vaccinations at the same appointment when you get your COVID-19 vaccination. Adults may get a COVID-19 vaccine and flu vaccine at the same time. Talk to your healthcare provider if you have questions.
Can I get side effects from the updated booster?
Mild side effects after a COVID-19 vaccine are common, however severe allergic reactions after getting a COVID-19 vaccine are rare.
I can still get COVID if I’m fully vaccinated. So why bother with getting the booster?
If you’re up to date with your COVID vaccines and the virus enters your body (infects you), your immune system will quickly recognize the virus and will work to keep it from doing real harm.
That’s why most people who get infected with COVID despite being up to date with their vaccines have no symptoms or only mild-to-moderate illness.
Most people getting severely ill, needing hospitalization, and dying from COVID are unvaccinated.
I am relatively healthy and haven’t had COVID yet. And many people I know have only gotten mild or asymptomatic cases. Why should I worry?
Even if you are in good health, there’s really no way to know how COVID-19 will affect you. Most people have a mild case, but it can cause serious illness and death.
COVID-19 has killed more than 1,040,000 people in the United States, making it a leading cause of death.
Some people develop long COVID, where they have symptoms that last for weeks or months.
Vaccinating as many people as possible is the best way to reduce the spread of COVID and the chance of future variants developing that may be more dangerous.
Are COVID-19 vaccines and boosters safe and effective?
COVID-19 vaccines available in the United States are safe and are effective at protecting people from getting seriously ill, being hospitalized, and even dying.
COVID-19 vaccines also help protect against infection. People who are vaccinated may still get COVID-19. When people who have been vaccinated get COVID-19, they are much less likely to experience severe symptoms than people who are unvaccinated.
COVID-19 vaccine ingredients are considered safe for most people. Nearly all the ingredients in COVID-19 vaccines are ingredients found in many foods—fats, sugar, and salts. After the body produces an immune response, it discards all vaccine ingredients, just as it would discard any substance that cells no longer need. This process is a part of normal body functioning.
Also, vaccines are much safer paths to immunity than the disease itself.
If I am homebound, how can I get the booster shot?
Georgia residents who are currently sick, shut-in, or homebound due to an ongoing physical or mental disability and are unable to travel to a COVID-19 vaccination site can request to receive vaccination at their home from the Georgia Department of Public Health.
Please email HVS@dph.ga.gov or call (888) 572-0112 with the following information for the person who requires at-home vaccination:
- Date of birth
- Contact phone number
If you have Medicare and have a disability or face other challenges in getting to a location away from home for a vaccination, Medicare will pay a doctor or other care provider to give you the COVID-19 vaccine in your home.
What do I need to know if I live in a long-term care facility?
Residents and their families can ask a long-term care provider about the current COVID-19 vaccination rate among their staff and residents.
Nursing homes are required by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to monitor weekly COVID-19 vaccination data for residents and healthcare personnel through CDC’s National Healthcare Safety Network. CMS posts updated information about individual nursing homes, including resident and staff vaccination rates, on the CMS COVID-19 Nursing Home Data
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services FAQ
- COVID-19 risks for older adults
- Official CDC COVID-19 vaccine site
- Georgia Department of Public Health COVID-19 dashboard
- Official COVID-19 vaccination data tracker
- AARP: What to know about the updated booster
- The Georgia Department of Public Health COVID-19 hotline for questions about COVID-19, the vaccine, and boosters: (888) 357-0169 (Note that this is not a number to schedule vaccine appointments.)