Coronavirus

How to get a COVID-19 vaccine booster in Massachusetts

Hundreds of thousands of Bay Staters are newly eligible following the CDC's move last week. Are you one of them?

Booster shots of the Pfizer COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine in Longmeadow. Lane Turner / The Boston Globe

(Update, Nov. 18: Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration announced it was expanding COVID-19 booster eligibility to all Massachusetts adults. Read more here.)

Well over a million Massachusetts residents can now get a COVID-19 vaccine booster, following the federal government’s move to expand eligibility late last week.

After initially only approving a third shot for certain groups who got the Pfizer vaccine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now allowing some Moderna vaccine recipients, as well as everyone who got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, to get a booster shot. They’re also letting people get whichever of the three vaccines as a booster, regardless of what they got the first time.

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The move last week allows more than 750,000 additional Massachusetts residents to get a booster, adding onto the over 600,000 Pfizer recipients and immunocompromised individuals who were already eligible.

Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration says there are still hundreds of locations where residents can get that third — or, in the case of J&J vaccine recipients, second — dose.

And already, more than 300,000 residents have taken up the opportunity.

Here’s what to know if you’re looking to get a booster, too:

Am I eligible?

While the CDC’s move opens up eligibility to recipients of all three vaccines, it does still depend on when you got your most recent shot and a few other factors.

Those who got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at least two months ago are eligible for a booster.

And that’s it. There’s no other age, health, or occupation criteria; simply, if you got the J&J vaccine more than two months ago, you can now get a booster.

It’s a bit more complicated for Pfizer and Moderna recipients — at least on the surface.

First, it must be six months since the date of your second shot of either vaccine.

And second, you must fall into one of four groups that face either an increased risk of severe disease or exposure to COVID-19:

  1. Individuals 65 years and older
  2. Individuals 18 years and older who live in long-term care settings, such as nursing homes, assisted living facilities, or residential settings for people with disabilities
  3. Individuals 18 years and older who have underlying medical conditions
  4. Individuals 18 years and older who work or live in high-risk settings

(While teens aged 12 to 17 have been able to get the Pfizer vaccine, they’re not eligible for any boosters at this time, Pfizer or otherwise.)

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One key point: Neither the federal government nor the Baker administration is tightly defining the lists of qualifying medical conditions or occupations.

State officials are deferring to the CDC’s lists. Qualifying medical conditions range from cancer and heart disease to diabetes and moderate asthma to those with a body mass index over 25. According to the CDC, examples of eligible workers include:

  • First responders (e.g., health care workers, firefighters, police, congregate care staff)
  • Education staff (e.g., teachers, support staff, daycare workers)
  • Food and agriculture workers
  • Manufacturing workers
  • Corrections workers
  • U.S. Postal Service workers
  • Public transit workers
  • Grocery store workers

However, the CDC also notes that the lists do not include “all possible conditions” that qualify for a booster, nor do they “include all potential occupations where a worker could have an increased risk for exposure.”

The agency says that other factors — such as local COVID-19 transmission rates, adherence to prevention measures like masks, and unavoidable interactions with possibly unvaccinated people — play into workers’ risks of exposure.

The agency doesn’t give specific thresholds, but suggests individuals discuss their risk with their doctor.

Like the initial vaccine rollout, residents will be asked to attest to their eligibility when making an appointment, though they won’t be required to provide proof of a qualifying medical condition or occupation.

In other words, if you think you’re eligible, you’re not going to get turned away.

Federal officials say that additional groups may eventually become eligible, but that current data suggests that the vaccines remain highly effective at protecting against complications from COVID-19 for those who aren’t high risk.

Which vaccine booster should I get?

In addition to expanding eligibility, the CDC’s move last week is also giving individuals carte blanche to get whichever of the three vaccines they want as a booster — regardless of which one they got first.

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The Baker administration says that “residents with questions about which booster is right for them should ask their health care provider for advice.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said last week that the general recommendation is that individuals stick with the same vaccine they got in the first place.

However, he also said, based on local vaccine availability or personal preference, it’s fine to “mix and match.” While each of the boosters helps increase antibody levels amid concerns about waning protection, there’s some early evidence that the two mRNA vaccines — Pfizer and Moderna — provide a significantly bigger boost than an additional dose of the J&J vaccine.

How do I get it?

According to the Baker administration, there are more than 460 locations in Massachusetts now offering booster appointments, the vast majority of which —over 450 — are retail pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens.

While there aren’t officially any mass vaccination sites like the initial rollout, the state is sponsoring several walk-in clinics with the capacity to administer hundreds of boosters a day.

Earlier this month, the state opened two such locations in Springfield and Lowell, with the capacity to administer 300 Pfizer boosters and the ability to ramp up to 1,000 a day if merited by demand. The Springfield Booster Clinic is at 1 Federal St. in Springfield, and the Lowell Booster Clinic is at 40 Old Ferry Road in Lowell.

This Tuesday, two similar sites are opening in Brockton and Danvers. Located at the Shaw’s Center at 1 Feinberg Way, the Brockton clinic will offer Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson boosters and primary series doses. The Danver clinic, at 1 Ferncroft Road, will offer only Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson shots.

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However, it’s likely for many that there’s a pharmacy with booster shots closer to home.

The Baker administration’s vaxfinder.mass.gov has a full list of vaccine locations, which can be filtered by booster and specific vaccine brands. Individuals can enter their zip code and find the nearest booster location to them. They can also go directly to the websites of CVS or Walgreens to arrange an appointment.

For individuals who have difficulty accessing the internet, the state also has a COVID-19 Vaccine Resource Line (available Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., as well as Saturday and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.) that residents can reach by calling 2-1-1 and then following the prompts for assistance. The hotline is available in English and Spanish, and has translators available in approximately 100 additional languages.

The state also has an in-home vaccination program for those who are unable to get to a vaccination location.

Then what?

Individuals do not need an ID or health insurance to get a booster, which — like the initial shots — is free.

State officials say it may be helpful to bring your CDC vaccination card so that your booster dose can be added to it, but it’s not required for an appointment.

“Your vaccinator may choose to look up your vaccine records to confirm the type of vaccine you received before,” the state’s website says.

If you want to get a new vaccination card, there are directions for contacting and requesting a copy from the various vaccine providers on the state’s website.

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Also: Plan ahead for potential side effects from the booster.

State officials say the current data indicates that booster side effects are similar to those experienced after second doses. Most common are mild side effects, such as localized pain, redness or swelling at the injection site, fatigue, headache, and low-grade fever. Severe side effects are rare.

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