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All individuals 12 years or older will be eligible for a COVID-19 mRNA vaccine booster shot 8 months after their final dose, once authorized by the Food and Drug Administration. Anchiy / Getty Images
  • The FDA is expected to approve COVID-19 booster shots for the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna mRNA vaccines for the general population in people 12 years and older.
  • Third doses of the mRNA vaccines have already been approved for those who are immunocompromised.
  • People who received the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine can also expect to need a booster, but more data is required.
  • Everyone who received an mRNA vaccine will be eligible for a booster 8 months after their final dose, beginning as early as September 20.
  • Booster shots are being recommended, since the effectiveness of all vaccines decreases over time and in response to the dominant Delta variant of the virus.

With the surging Delta variant battling whatever gains that months of vaccinations made against COVID-19, federal health officials are sending reinforcements in the form of booster shots. These should become available next month.

Now, the devil is in the details, as officials scramble to get plans in place before things get worse.

“The first part that is already happening is a third dose of vaccine recommended for those who are immunocompromised,” Dr. Mark Sawyer, an infectious disease specialist at UC-San Diego and Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego, told Healthline.

“It’s not considered so much a booster, but another chance to respond to the whole vaccination series, since some people with immunocompromising conditions don’t respond,” he explained.

“The next part we will see is a true booster dose for those who have already had either one dose of Johnson & Johnson, or two doses of one of the mRNA vaccines,” Sawyer said. “The purpose of this dose is to boost the immune levels that may have worn off. This is especially important for protection from the Delta variant. This is expected to start mid to late September.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines updated August 20, individuals will be eligible for a booster 8 months after their final dose, once authorized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

“The FDA has approved, though, that people who have received solid organ transplants in the past are eligible to receive the booster at the 8-month mark,” said Dr. Suneet Singh, an emergency department physician and medical director of CareHive Health in Austin, Texas.

“In addition, people of similar weakened immunity are also approved by the FDA to receive the booster,” Singh said.

On August 20, the CDC said the most at-risk people will be first in line for boosters, including healthcare professionals, residents of long-term care facilities, and other older adults.

People who received the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine can expect to need a booster as well. However, because it became available later than the other two-shot vaccines, the CDC is still compiling the necessary data to move forward with details.

“Eventually, a booster will be needed for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, but that vaccine is on a different timeline,” said Dr. Payel Gupta, a New York-based co-founder of the allergy clinic Cleared and a board certified physician in pediatrics, immunology, and internal medicine.

“It was first distributed in March, after many people had already gotten at least one of the two-part [Pfizer-BioNTech] and Moderna vaccines, so there’s more time for that vaccine to be effective before its efficacy starts to wane,” she added.

Singh told Healthline people should stick with the same shot they received before.

“The science so far has predominately only studied receiving a booster while staying within the same manufacturer line of your vaccine,” Singh said. “That said, if it is truly not possible to receive the same vaccine as you have had previously, it is OK to receive the other manufacturer’s vaccine.”

Health officials have said boosters could begin going into arms the week of September 20.

“Patients can expect to see clinics offering a third dose of vaccine to all who want it,” Singh told Healthline. “The third dose may be rolled out in phases, similar to what we saw at the beginning of the COVID-19 vaccination program. Those at highest risk may be recommended to get a booster dose first. The side effects with a booster dose are similar to what people experienced with their previous doses.”

It’s beginning to sound like COVID-19 prevention will be an ongoing battle for the foreseeable future.

“Your protection from vaccination does decrease with time and the Delta [variant] requires a higher level of protection to prevent infection,” Singh said. “We may need regular COVID-19 vaccines, similar to what happens now with influenza vaccine, because the virus keeps changing.”

“Even more important than a booster is for people who have not been vaccinated to do it now. Otherwise, we are going to be in some form of restricted activities and mask wearing for a long time to come,” Singh said.