Pfizer & Moderna: Authorized for people age 6 months and older. Both Pfizer and Moderna use mRNA technology, which prompts the body to make its own version of COVID-19’s spike protein, a key part of the virus. Both require two shots spaced apart for full primary vaccination, except for Pfizer recipients ages 6 months to 4 years, who are given three separate doses. The third shot for children in that age group is the updated, omicron-specific vaccine.
Novavax: Authorized for people 12 and older. Novavax uses a more traditional vaccine technology, directly delivering a lab-made version of the COVID spike protein upon injection. Requires two shots spaced apart for full primary vaccination.
Johnson & Johnson (J&J): Authorized for people 18 and older who only have access to the J&J vaccine, or who cannot receive a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine for medical reasons. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) updated its J&J guidance due to a rare but serious blood clotting disorder associated with the one-shot vaccine.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends getting an omicron-specific (bivalent) booster, which targets the original strain of the coronavirus as well as more recently circulating variants (BA.4 and BA.5). The original vaccines, called monovalent vaccines, will no longer be available as booster doses.
It’s safe and effective to choose which vaccine you receive as a booster, either Pfizer or Moderna, regardless of which initial vaccines you received. Note that the Novavax booster can only be used as a first booster shot; if you’ve already gotten one or several COVID-19 boosters, you cannot receive a Novavax booster. Health officials have discouraged people from receiving an initial J&J vaccine or booster due to a rare but serious blood clotting disorder.
Some vaccination sites ask for proof of identity or eligibility. Bring a driver’s license or other state-issued ID that shows your name, age and state residency, along with your health insurance card, if you have one. You won’t be charged for the initial vaccine series, or a booster shot, but the vaccine provider may bill your insurer a fee for administering the vaccine. After your first shot, bring your vaccine card for subsequent shots.
Most long-term care residents and staff were offered first and second doses through a federal program that provided free on-site vaccinations in late 2020 and early 2021. The program has ended, but the federal government continues to allocate COVID-19 vaccines and boosters to pharmacies that are partnered with long-term care facilities to provide vaccinations, mainly on-site.
Facilities that don’t have a pharmacy partner are encouraged to work with local or state health departments — or the federal government, if need be — to provide vaccinations.
You should not have any out-of-pocket cost for getting the vaccine or a booster. AARP fought to make sure the federal government is covering the cost of the vaccine itself.
Scammers are purporting to offer COVID vaccines and treatments and trying to charge for them. AARP's Fraud Watch Network is tracking the latest scams.
You should get a small white card at your vaccination appointment with your name, birth date, name of the vaccine you received and the date it was administered. If you receive the Pfizer, Moderna or Novavax vaccine, bring your card when you get your second shot.
You may need your vaccine card to schedule a third vaccine dose, for certain immunocompromised people, or a booster shot. You may also need it for certain kinds of travel or other activities, so keep it in a safe place. You can take a photo of it with your smartphone for your own records. Experts say that posting a photo of your card to social media could make you vulnerable to identity theft.
If you’ve lost your vaccine card, call the site where you were vaccinated to request a new one or a copy of your vaccination record. You can also contact your state health department to request a replacement card or a copy of your record.
All vaccines reduce the risk of COVID-19 infections and are highly effective at preventing severe illness and death from the disease. But no vaccine is 100 percent effective, and breakthrough infections can occur post-vaccination.
This guide was updated on Dec. 14, 2022, with new information about the approval of omicron-specific boosters for young children.
This story is provided by AARP Iowa. Visit the AARP Iowa page for more news, events, and programs affecting retirement, health care, and more.
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Find information about getting a COVID-19 vaccine in your state. CDC information is available at cdc.gov/coronavirus; additional AARP information and resources are at aarp.org/coronavirus. En español, visite aarp.org/elcoronavirus.
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