Nurse wearing a mask and gloves gives a boy a booster shot of a vaccine

How Booster Shots Keep Your Immunity Strong 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has authorized a third dose of the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines for immunocompromised individuals and is soon expected to authorize them for the broad population. 

The vaccines help with antibodies, which are a key component of the body’s immune response to illness. Antibodies are proteins that can identify and neutralize invading viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites based on their molecular patterns.  

Antibodies are produced when cells in the body are triggered by a foreign substance – like a virus. In the case of the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines, messenger RNA is used to trigger this response.  

Over time, the level of antibodies can naturally decrease. But even if antibody levels decrease, the body has a memory of how to fight diseases that it’s been exposed to – either through a prior illness or through a vaccine.  

Each time the body’s immune system is re-exposed to a disease-causing invader, its response is even stronger – which makes your body more capable of quickly eliminating it.  

This is why booster shots are a routine part of the recommended schedule of vaccines for children and adults. Booster shots are another dose of a vaccine that you’ve already received. Diseases like chickenpox, tetanus, measle and whooping cough all require booster shots. Now, the COVID-19 vaccines also will require additional doses to maintain a strong immune response.  

In the case of COVID-19, federal health officials have amended the emergency use authorization so those who are immunocompromised can receive a third dose of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines to boost their immunity. The immunocompromised may include individuals who have experienced the following:  

  • Active cancer treatment for tumors or blood cancers  
  • Active treatment with high-dose corticosteroids or other drugs that may suppress the immune system  
  • Advanced or untreated HIV infection  
  • Moderate or severe primary immunodeficiency (such as DiGeorge syndrome and Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome)  
  • Recipients of a stem cell transplant within the last two years or are taking medication that suppresses the immune system 
  • Recipients of organ transplant and are taking medication to suppress the immune system 

Talk with your health care provider if you have questions or concerns about where and when to receive one. 

The FDA is considering making a third dose of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines available to all Americans starting eight months after their second dose. Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two initial shots to produce a full immune response. As most individuals who received the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines first in the U.S. were health care providers, frontline staff, nursing home residents and other seniors, those groups will likely be eligible for a third shot first.  

Health officials advise you must receive a third dose of the same brand of vaccine that you have already received in order for the booster shot to be fully effective.  

Research is still ongoing into the immune response provided by the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and no formal recommendation for a booster dose has been made at this time. It is expected, however, that a booster dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be recommended by federal health officials in the future. 

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and Blue Care Network will cover the cost of the third dose of the COVID-19 mRNA vaccines for the broad population once it is authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. This applies to fully insured commercial plan members. Employer groups subject to the Affordable Care Act are required to cover administration of vaccine doses. Blue Cross will work with employers to guide them through applicable requirements. All COVID vaccine costs for members on Blue Cross Medicare and Blue Care Network Medicare plans will be covered by Medicare.  

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Photo credit: Getty Images

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