What you need to know about COVID-19 booster shots

What you need to know about COVID-19 booster shots

Now that many adult Australians have been vaccinated against COVID-19 for months the latest recommendation is that these vaccinations should be followed up with a booster dose.

Key points

  • A booster shot of the COVID-19 vaccine is now recommended after your first two shots
  • There are recommendations around who should get the booster, when to get it and what minor side effects you might get
  • Booster shot appointments can be made at all of the same places that your other COVID-19 vaccination appointments could be made

What you need to know about COVID-19 vaccine booster doses is outlined below, so you can feel informed about your booster before booking your vaccination.

What is a booster shot?

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) has upgraded their definition of being fully vaccinated and it involves getting three doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

The term fully vaccinated will also not be used anymore, the terminology is now an "up to date" vaccination status.

You will be considered up to date with your COVID-19 vaccinations if you have the booster shot.

The booster is still not mandatory unless you work in aged care, but if you don't get a booster shot within six months of your second shot you will not be considered up to date with your COVID-19 vaccinations, rather you are "overdue" for your third shot.

As COVID-19 is a relatively new virus there is no long term research into how long the vaccine will protect you for and whether further boosters will be needed in the future.

Boosters are already given for other vaccinations against disease, for example with tetanus vaccination, for similar reasons to why the immune responses created by COVID-19 vaccines are being boosted.

What are the benefits of a booster shot?

Booster doses can help with all the aspects of protection against COVID-19.

They can strengthen your immune system to reduce the risk of you catching the virus, reduce the severity of the symptoms you get if you do catch it and reduce the risk of you spreading the virus to others around you.

Although having two shots of the vaccine should give you a high level of protection against COVID-19, having a booster makes that protection even stronger and helps it to last longer.

Who can get a booster shot?

All Australians aged 16 years and older are eligible for a booster after they have received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. Boosters have not yet been approved for younger children.

Immunocompromised people, aged five or older, are recommended to have three doses of the vaccine to be up to date with their vaccination and build up their body’s response to COVID-19 to the strongest level possible. Those who are immunocompromised and are older than 16 can receive a fourth dose as a booster.

When should I get a booster shot?

After you have your second shot you need to wait at least three months before getting your booster.

The original advice was four months between the second and third vaccine appointments, however, given the current spread of the Omicron variant the wait has been reduced to three months. This is still considered safe and Australian experts have not found any evidence that having a booster after three months instead of four causes more or worse reactions.

The length of time between the third dose for immunocompromised people and their fourth dose - the booster - is also recommended to be three months.

Where can I get a booster shot?

All the places which offer first and second dose COVID-19 vaccine appointments should also offer booster appointments, including GP clinics, pharmacies, State and Territory-run vaccination hubs and Commonwealth-run vaccination clinics.

You can find the closest of each of these sites by using the Government’s Vaccine Clinic Finder.

For people with disability who live in a group or shared home, with two or more people, there are in reach vaccination services provided in your home by the Federal Government in the same way as previous vaccinations were given.

However, if you can get vaccinated at a GP, pharmacy or vaccination hub this may be a better option depending on the number of COVID-19 cases in your local area and the urgency of how quickly you need to get your booster shot.

Most States and Territories information about the easiest ways for people with disability to get a vaccine, including specialist vaccination hubs and programs coordinating appointments:

You should not have to pay for the booster shot, regardless of where you are when you receive it.

What vaccines are used as booster shots?

People who are 16 or 17 years old need to have the Pfizer vaccine, however, everyone aged 18 and older can have either the Pfizer or the Moderna booster. Boosters are yet to be approved at all for children under 16 years of age.

This is because of the approvals given to the manufacturers of these vaccines by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) and the recommendations made by the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) based on evidence of the safety of the vaccines as boosters in clinical trials and their use in other countries.

If you haven’t had Pfizer or Moderna before it is still recommended to have them for your booster. These vaccines are considered safe to mix and match based on evidence from around the world.

However, if you can’t have Pfizer or Moderna vaccine because of an allergic reaction to a previous dose or an allergy to any of the ingredients in these vaccines you can receive the AstraZeneca vaccine for your booster.

Are there any side effects?

The list of side effects you might experience from the booster shot is the same as the possible side effects for the first two vaccinations.

Mild side effects could include:

  • Tiredness
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Pain or swelling at the injection site
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the arm the injection was given in
  • Muscle or joint pain
  • Chills
  • Fever

These side effects could last for several days, but if they continue for more than three days it is recommended that you talk to your doctor.

The more serious but rare side effects of both vaccines include:

  • Severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis)
  • Myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle)
  • Pericarditis (inflammation of the outer lining of the heart)

If you think you are having an allergic reaction because you are struggling to breathe, have a fast heartbeat or are collapsing, or if you think your heart is inflamed because of chest pain or discomfort, irregular heartbeats, fainting, shortness of breath or pain when breathing, call 000.

Have you had your booster COVID-19 shot yet? Tell us in the comments below.

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