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Should You Get a Covid Booster Shot?

The 3rd shot or "booster" shot for some Covid-19 vaccines have recently become available to the public. To date, boosters are available for people who have received the Moderna and Pfizer mRNA-type vaccines. Since booster shots for single-dose vaccines have yet to be approved for use, federal government health officials have even approved a "mix & match" strategy, allowing people who have had Johnson & Johnson or other single-dose vaccines to have a booster shot from another brand.

Some patients I know have already jumped on getting the booster vaccine. But for many, there is a lot of hesitation as to whether or not they should get a booster because of the lack of general information and safety statistics. So what exactly is the 3rd shot, and who should consider getting it?

In the general world of vaccines, a "booster" vaccine is a shot that is administered weeks, months, or even years after the original vaccine dose. Most people have had boosters for vaccines like measles, meningitis, or tetanus. Sometimes a booster vaccine can give updated immunity (like in the case of tetanus); other times, it can provide complete immunity, meaning you should not need another shot again in your lifetime (like the measles vaccines). For Covid-19, because there is still a lack of research and clinical understanding to indicate how long the immunity from the initial shots may provide, the booster vaccine as far as we know will only give updated immunity, and may have to be renewed each year like the flu shot.

So should you get the Covid booster? In my personal opinion, I believe that while the Covid vaccines have been effective at lowering rates of new infection and allowing us to get back to more normal activities of life, the booster shot may not be appropriate for everyone. If you are generally healthy and you are in an at-risk group, such as front-line health providers, first responders, teachers, or if you are over 50 years old, or if your job constantly exposes you to a lot of people, then definitely consider getting the 3rd shot of the Covid vaccine. It can go a long way towards bolstering your existing immunity, and some data shows that it may even provide more long-term immunity. There are also people who have certain serious underlying medical conditions who should consider getting the booster vaccine as well, particularly people who have immune deficiencies due to certain diseases or medical treatments they have received.

However, if you have one of the following serious medical conditions (severe uncontrolled diabetes, uncontrolled hypertension, serious heart disease, lung, liver, or kidney organ deficiency or failure), or if you are one of those who developed a significant negative reaction to the initial Covid vaccine, regardless of age or risk of exposure, you should take a second to consider before getting the booster shot, and also reach out to your primary care provider to discuss your options.

What defines a significant negative reaction after the Covid vaccine? Here are some examples:

- Severe allergic reaction

- Blood clotting

- Kidney failure, or a significant reduction in kidney function

- Lung damage, or a significant reduction in lung function

- Liver damage

- Heart inflammation (myocarditis, pericarditis)

While these are not commonly reported or seen side effects, they do exist and have happened to some patients I know. However, remember that most of these cases are exceptions and that generally speaking the Covid vaccines have been quite safe. Please discuss with your doctor if you have any concerns about whether you should receive the Covid booster shot.

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