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Are you considered fully vaccinated if you don’t get COVID booster shot? What to know

Some businesses are requiring employees and visitors to show proof of complete vaccination against COVID-19, but now that booster​ shots are in the mix, what does it mean to be fully vaccinated?
Pfizer vaccine 01152021
In this Jan. 15 photo, Dr. Yomaris Pena, an internal medicine physician with Somos Community Care, extracts the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine out of a vial at a vaccination site at the Corsi Houses in the East Harlem neighborhood of New York. (Mary Altaffer | AP Photo, File)

Some businesses are requiring employees and visitors to show proof of complete vaccination against COVID-19, but now that booster shots are in the mix, what does it mean to be fully vaccinated?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed in a Friday update to its website that everyone is still considered fully vaccinated two weeks after their second shot for two-dose vaccines, including those from Pfizer and Moderna. People are also fully vaccinated two weeks after receipt of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

That means you do not have to receive a Pfizer booster shot to be considered fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

It’s unclear if businesses and employers are allowed to change their definitions of “fully vaccinated” when booster shots become available for everyone, but health officials say two doses are enough for now.

Only some people who received the Pfizer vaccine for their first two doses can receive a Pfizer booster shot at this time. Eligible people include:

  • People age 65 and older and nursing home residents
  • People age 50-64 with underlying medical conditions
  • People age 18-49 with underlying medical conditions based on their “individual benefit and risk”
  • People age 18-64 who face high risks of coronavirus infection at their workplace, including first responders (health care workers, firefighters, police), teachers, corrections officers, grocery store employees, public transit staff and food and agriculture workers — among others

Booster shots are to be administered at least six months after the initial two doses.

The CDC says other groups may later be recommended to receive booster shots as more data becomes available. People who got the Moderna or J&J vaccines “will likely need a booster shot,” but an exact timeline of when they could receive the additional jab is unknown, the agency says.

“More data on the effectiveness and safety of Moderna and J&J/Janssen booster shots are expected soon,” the CDC says. “With those data in hand, CDC will keep the public informed with a timely plan for Moderna and J&J/Janssen booster shots.”

Health officials recommended COVID-19 booster shots because studies show protection from vaccines may decrease over time, especially when put up against the highly contagious delta variant. Coronavirus vaccines still offer strong protection against hospitalization and death, particularly for people age 65 and older, but data suggests vaccines may be less effective at preventing infection over time.

Data from Pfizer shows side effects after a booster dose are similar to those felt after the first two shots. Fatigue and arm pain were the most commonly reported reactions.

Pfizer booster shots are free for people in the U.S. and can be received on the same day as other vaccines, including the flu shot.

Immunocompromised people have been allowed to receive a third dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine since August. Current recommendations state their third dose should be the same vaccine as the one they got for their first two doses. A different vaccine can only be given if the original vaccine they received is unavailable.

People with weakened immune systems who received the J&J vaccine are still not yet allowed to receive an additional shot, officials said, citing a lack of data.

More than 183.6 million people are fully vaccinated in the U.S. as of Sept. 26, about 55% of the total population, according to a CDC tracker. Of those, 100.6 million have been fully vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine.
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