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What you need to know about COVID-19 booster shots

Last Updated at February 11th 2022
The COVID-19 vaccines have been a huge milestone in Australia's fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

Key points:

  • Booster shots are just an extra dose of the vaccine to boost or maintain the strength of your immunity to COVID-19
  • There are only two vaccines available as a booster shot in Australia
  • Older people should get a booster shot to protect themselves against the new highly-transmissible Omicron variant
Older person getting a COVID-19 vaccine
The booster shot is now a requirement if you want to be considered "up to date" with your COVID-19 vaccinations. [Source: Shutterstock]

These vaccines helped slow the spread and protect the most vulnerable from the deadly virus.

While the vaccines are a great way to protect yourself against the virus, experts don't yet know how long the vaccines last in providing us immunity against COVID-19. This is why booster shots are used to maintain our current level of protection against the coronavirus.

What are booster shots?

As the name implies, a booster shot aims to boost your current immunity. It's an additional vaccine dose to cover your previous shots that would have been decreasing in strength since you first received it.

The purpose of a booster shot is to maintain strong protection and immunity against the virus.

The Federal Government Health Department says that the booster shot will make the first doses you received stronger and last for longer.

Getting a booster shot is not a new concept, many people get booster shots for different diseases, like tetanus or whooping cough. The Influenza vaccine is also considered a type of booster shot that you can get every year for additional protection.

Do I need 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 you will not be considered up to date with your COVID-19 vaccinations, rather you are "overdue" for your third shot.

Eligibility for booster shots

At the moment, the recommendation for COVID-19 booster shots is for anyone 16 years or older who is already fully vaccinated.

You can only receive a booster shot if your last dose of the COVID-19 vaccine was provided to you at least three months ago.

What booster shots are available?

At the moment, there are only two approved booster shot providers in Australia - Moderna and Pfizer.

People aged 18 and over can get either the Moderna or Pfizer booster shot, no matter what first and second vaccine dose you received.

While AstraZeneca is not preferred in Australia as a booster, you can receive it as a booster in some circumstances. If for some reason you are unable to have the Pfizer vaccine as a booster due to medical issues or your primary course of the COVID-19 vaccine was AstraZeneca, you can elect to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine as your booster.

However, Pfizer and Moderna is preferred by the ATAGI over AstraZeneca, even if you originally had AstraZeneca as your primary vaccine.

As an older person, do I need one?

The Omicron variant that is currently going around, is highly transmissible, which is why it is considered a dangerous version of COVID-19.

Since it can spread so easily, older Australians are encouraged to get a booster shot to strengthen their immune system against the virus, especially if you live close to other people like in a residential aged care facility.

Older bodies tend to have weakened or less effective immune systems compared to younger people, which is all the more reason to make sure your body has the right defences in place. Additionally, as you get older, your body doesn't always bounce back as quickly as when you were younger.

What side effects are there?

Side effects from the COVID-19 vaccine booster can differ from person to person, however, the Health Department reports that symptoms from having a booster should look similar to what you experienced on the first two doses of the COVID vaccine.

Read our COVID-19 vaccine explainer on the Aged Care Guide for more information.

Where can I get a booster shot?

COVID-19 booster shots are generally available at the same places you received the first and second doses of the vaccine.

This includes Commonwealth Vaccination Clinics, State and Territory run clinics, Aboriginal Controlled Community Health Services, and some community pharmacies. Use the Vaccine Clinic Finder website to find a vaccine booster provider near you.

Booster shots in aged care

The Federal Government has put booster shots in-reach centres at aged care facilities around Australia to get older residents boosted against the COVID-19 virus.

At the moment, the Omicron variant is ripping through aged care facilities and putting a great deal of strain on the aged care workforce.

As aged care residents were at the front of the queue for vaccinations in 2021, they are the first group to have priority on receiving a booster.

If you are in an aged care facility, you will be able to receive a booster through the in-reach clinic program.

However, if for some reason you miss the in-reach clinic or change your mind, you can talk to your aged care provider about organising an appointment for a vaccine.

Do I need any more vaccines?

As there isn't long enough research and data to pull from, experts don't know how long the COVID-19 vaccine will protect you against the virus.

Currently, experts are undertaking clinical trials to see if booster shots will become a regular dosage for people per year, if it will be a booster every couple years, or not at all.

Are you planning to get the booster shot or do you intend to remain fully vaccinated instead? Tell us in the comments below.

Related content:

COVID-19 vaccines and what you should know
Importance of getting a COVID-19 vaccine as an older person
Mythbusting misinformation around the COVID-19 vaccine
How do I get the COVID-19 vaccine as an older person?

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