Having posted about getting the first and second doses of Pfizer-BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) authorization and recommendation for Pfizer booster shots, I’m completing the series by sharing the experience of scheduling and receiving a vaccine booster shot.

Booster Shot Eligibility

In the United States, people who received a Pfizer vaccine at least six months ago are eligible for a booster Pfizer shot if they fall into one or more of the following categories:

  • 65 years or older
  • Residents in long-term care
  • 18 years or older with underlying medical conditions
  • 18 to 64 years and work in high-risk settings 

The CDC’s list of underlying health conditions seems to cover a lot of people 18 and older. The list includes:

  • Cancer
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Chronic lung diseases, including COPD, asthma (moderate-to-severe), interstitial lung disease, cystic fibrosis, and pulmonary hypertension
  • Dementia or other neurological conditions
  • Diabetes (type 1 or type 2)
  • Down syndrome
  • Heart conditions (such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, cardiomyopathies or hypertension)
  • HIV infection
  • Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system)
  • Liver disease
  • Overweight and obesity
  • Pregnancy
  • Sickle cell disease or thalassemia
  • Smoking, current or former
  • Solid organ or blood stem cell transplant
  • Stroke or cerebrovascular disease, which affects blood flow to the brain
  • Substance use disorders

Examples of workers who may get Pfizer-BioNTech booster shots:

  • First responders (e.g., healthcare workers, firefighters, police, congregate care staff)
  • Education staff (e.g., teachers, support staff, daycare workers)
  • Food and agriculture workers
  • Manufacturing workers
  • Corrections workers
  • U.S. Postal Service workers
  • Public transit workers
  • Grocery store workers

The CDC advises that people in high risk jobs or who have underlying health conditions should talk to their healthcare provider about their medical condition, and whether getting an additional dose is appropriate for them.

Having completed the two-dose Pfizer regimen on February 14 and being a member of one of the categories meant I was overdue for an optional booster that the CDC determined is necessary to maintain the level of protection the initial doses provided.

Getting An Appointment

Singing up for and getting the shot was a simple matter of going to the website of the provider of the initial doses, a local health system called Atrium Health, and picking a location and time. Going back to the provider of the initial doses in not necessary, however.

In spite of the large number of people who are eligible, there were plenty of appointments immediately available at numerous locations. I selected an appointment at an Atrium Health office a few minutes drive from home and scheduled the booster for the day after an important appointment that I didn’t want to miss if there were serious side effects. The system confirmed the appointment in a text message with a brief explanation of what to expect at the appointment.

Getting The Booster

Getting the booster was even easier than the process involved in getting the first doses. The day of the booster, the system sent another text reminder and described the procedure involved. Per the instructions, I arrived 15 minutes early and texted the clinic that I was outside. I stayed in the car until notified they were ready. When summoned I entered the clinic with mask on and filled out a short form. A nurse brought me to an examination room and administered the jab. She set updated my CDC vaccine record and set a timer for 15 minutes. I was free to go when the timer went off.

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Side Effects

All three Pfizer shots were identical in dosage but each had different side effects for me. The first shot (left arm) had absolutely no discernable side effects. The second shot (left arm) was just the opposite. It produced fever and substantial fatigue for a couple of days. The booster (right arm) had no effects except soreness developed at the site of the injection after a few hours. The soreness lasted a couple of days. Three identical Pfizer dosages, one individual, three different effects. Go figure.

What’s Next

As far as other vaccines, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson have also submitted requests for emergency use authorization of their booster shots of the COVID vaccines. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is convening an outside panel of advisers next week to review booster data from both J&J and Moderna. It’s the first step in a review process that also includes sign-off from the leadership of both the FDA and the CDC. If the FDA and CDC approve these applications, Americans could begin getting J&J and Moderna boosters later this month.

If effectiveness wanes over time for these vaccines, it would be surprising not to need boosters for other vaccines, too. Drug companies will likely push for it. SARS-CoV-2 could be their goose that lays golden eggs. Big Pharma is surely profiting from the vaccines although I don’t know how much relative to other drugs, or if the vaccines hinder production of their most lucrative brands. Periodic booster shots could be very profitable.

Other countries are likely to recommend boosters, too. Unfortunately, booster shots that go to already vaccinated populations will limit supplies for populations that have had little access to vaccines to date which could give the virus more time to mutate into potentially more harmful strains.

Last, if boosters are truly necessary to compensate for waning vaccine effectiveness, then it seems that people who were vaccinated more than six months or so previously ought to be treated much the same as the unvaccinated. Vaccine passports for things like travel, eating out, going to bars, attending sporting events and other large gatherings might at some point come with an expiration date and a requirement for a booster shot to be renewed for a finite periods.

Final Thoughts

The bottom line is, while progress against the virus is being made, like just about everything with Covid, nothing about the future of vaccines and the course of the pandemic is guaranteed. If SARS-CoV-2 evades our efforts to keep people healthy, then development of effective treatments for Covid-19 disease may be the best hope to be able to return to the lives we had before the pandemic.

Right now vaccination seems to be the ticket to returning to international travel. I’m scheduling some trips before the end of the year. How about you?