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COVID-19: The benefits of boosters

A man wearing a mask and pulling up his sleeve.

Vaccination is a great way to protect yourself from COVID-19. But once you're fully vaccinated, you might be asking: When should I get a booster dose? And do I need one?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has OK'd updated COVID-19 vaccine booster shots for people 6 months and older.

Most people who are 5 years old or older who haven't received a booster yet can get one dose of the updated vaccine. That's true whether or not they received the original vaccine series.

Children ages 6 months through 4 years can get the updated protection too. Ask your child's doctor how many doses they should receive.

Adults 65 and older and people with weak immune systems can get an additional dose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Ask your doctor for advice.

Why booster shots are important

Here are some key reasons you should get a booster shot:

You may need the extra protection. The COVID-19 vaccine you may already have received is still working to protect you. But that protection can weaken over time, according to CDC. You may not have as much immunity as you did months ago. And the new vaccine is designed to fight the current variants—much the way flu shots are updated each year.

Booster shots are safe. The new shots are very similar to the older versions—but updated to fight the XBB1.5 and other new variants. The side effects are similar to the older shots too. Many people have no side effects at all. If they do occur, they typically are mild. Common side effects include a sore arm, fever, headache and fatigue. Swollen lymph nodes may also occur. Serious reactions are rare.

Boosters are easy to find. Ask your doctor or pharmacist how to get one. Or call the local health department. You might even be able to get a walk-in appointment. For most people, there's no cost to get the shot. If you're uninsured, ask your doctor or pharmacist for help finding a free vaccine.

Reviewed 3/4/2024

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