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Health & Science

Colorado sent me a text about a COVID-19 booster. Can I get one?

A pharmacy technician prepares doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a mass vaccination event on Saturday in Denver.
A pharmacy technician prepares doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a mass vaccination event on Saturday in Denver.

Scott Bookman, Colorado's COVID-19 incident commander, said getting a text message isn't a guarantee you're eligible for a booster, but a nudge to check if you might be. The messages are going out to adults who either got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at least two months ago or got the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine at least six months ago.

"The federal eligibility criteria is really about people who are at high risk," he said at a press conference Wednesday. "People do need to look and make sure that they understand where they are on that continuum, but we wanted to make sure that everybody knew the boosters were here."

How do I know if I'm actually eligible?

If you have a compromised immune system: You're eligible if you either got your second shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine at least four weeks ago.

If you got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine: As long as you received it at least two months ago, you're eligible for another shot, whether or not you have a compromised immune system.

If you don't have a compromised immune system and got the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine: This is where it gets complicated. You're eligible if you got your last shot at least six months ago and fall into one of the following categories:

  • You're at least 65 years old
  • You live in a high-risk setting, like a nursing home
  • You have one of more than a dozen conditions that increase your risk of severe COVID-19
  • You work in a setting where your risk of exposure to the virus is higher

That said, not every health care provider is providing boosters to every person who might qualify. Some people with conditions on the higher-risk list have been told they can't get a booster shot in their doctor's office. State-run vaccination clinics are providing shots to all people who say they qualify, however, as are some retail pharmacies.

How do I know if I have a high-risk condition?

You're eligible for a booster if you have one of these conditions:

  • Cancer (current or past)
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Chronic liver disease
  • Chronic lung disease (includes moderate-to-severe asthma, cystic fibrosis, blood clots or high blood pressure in the lungs, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and other diseases that thicken the airways or damage the lung tissue)
  • Dementia
  • Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes
  • Down syndrome
  • Heart conditions (includes heart failure, coronary artery disease and conditions affecting the heart muscle)
  • HIV infection
  • Compromised immune system because of genetic conditions or long-term use of immune-suppressing medication
  • Mental health conditions (includes schizophrenia and mood disorders, like depression)
  • Overweight or obesity (body mass index of 25 or higher)
  • Pregnancy and the first six weeks of the postpartum period
  • Sickle cell disease or thalassemia
  • Current or former smoking
  • Organ or bone marrow transplant
  • Stroke or other disease affecting blood flow to the brain
  • Substance use disorder
  • Tuberculosis

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that people 50 and older who have one of these conditions SHOULD get a booster. Adults younger than 50 who want a booster MAY get one, but the recommendation isn't as strong.

What counts as a high-risk job?

Your risk of COVID-19 is considered higher if you work in a health care facility, school, grocery store, prison or jail, or a setting where many people are packed together, such as a homeless shelter. You're also eligible if you work in emergency response, agriculture or food processing, manufacturing, public transit, or the U.S. Postal Service.

The CDC didn't say you SHOULD get a booster if you work in those settings, but that you MAY if you want an extra layer of protection.

Which shot can I get?

The clinical guidance the CDC sent to health care providers still advises that they recommend using the same vaccine that patients received for their original doses, but that people can choose a different shot if they prefer.

There is some evidence people who received the Johnson & Johnson shot may produce a stronger immune response if they get either the Moderna or Pfizer shot as their booster -- though it's not clear how much real-world benefit that may provide.

People may also want to switch shots because of concerns about rare side effects. For example, a handful of young women developed dangerous blood clots after receiving the Johnson & Johnson shot, and some young men developed short-term heart inflammation after the Moderna and Pfizer shots. They would have to consider whether concern about side effects outweighs the reason they chose a certain shot in the first place.

What's this I've heard about a fourth shot?

The CDC has said that people with compromised immune systems who received a third shot of the Pfizer or Moderna shot could get a fourth shot starting in February. They could choose any of the three brands for their fourth shot, according to The New York Times.

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This story was written in partnership with the Denver Post, through a collaboration powered by COLab, the Colorado News Collaborative — a nonprofit formed to strengthen local public-service journalism in Colorado. KSUT joined this historic collaboration with more than 40 news organizations to share in-depth local reporting to better serve Coloradans.

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