What San Jose residents should know about COVID booster shots
San Jose-based physician Dr. Daljeet Rai, 62, was among the first in Santa Clara County to receive the COVID-19 vaccine at O'Connor Hospital in San Jose. Photo by Vicente Vera.

As the infectious COVID-19 Delta variant continues to sweep the nation, federal and local officials are rolling out a plan to offer booster shots to vaccinated individuals as early as September.

Federal officials announced a plan last week to make booster shots available by the week of Sept. 20, pending further reviews. Adults with two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines would be eligible for an additional jab eight months from when they got their second shot. There’s not enough data yet to determine a plan for those who got the one-dose Johnson & Johnson shot. In Santa Clara County, the additional shot is already available for some with health issues.

The decision comes amid surging positive infections and new data showing the vaccines’ effectiveness declines over time.

Separate from the boosters, residents with weakened immune systems are also now eligible for a special third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. A third vaccine dose helps immunocompromised people build additional protective antibodies.

Here’s what you need to know about the COVID-19 booster shots and third vaccines.

Why do I need a booster shot?

The COVID vaccines authorized in the U.S. continue to be effective in protecting people from serious infection, hospitalization and death, experts say.

In Santa Clara County, the case rate per 100,000 people among the unvaccinated is about 3.5 times higher than the rate among those who are fully vaccinated as of last week, county data shows.

But immunity wanes over time. It’s not uncommon for other vaccines to require a booster after a period of time. Boosters for whooping cough and tetanus, for example, are recommended every 10 years.

A booster is an extra dose of the same vaccine, which helps train the body to defend itself against serious infections and counteract waning immunity.

“(The booster shot) will help memory cells stimulating the immune response,” Dr. B.B. Gerstman, an epidemiologist and professor emeritus of public health at San Jose State University, told San José Spotlight. “It’s like learning. You learn something one time, two times, then three times, you’ll get better at it.”

Experts anticipated the need for a booster shot, but it was not clear until recently of when protections from the initial doses start to decline.

“You want to stay ahead of the virus… You don’t want to find yourself behind, playing catch-up,” White House medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci said last week.

When can I get a booster?

The FDA and CDC have yet to approve booster shots for the general public. Once approved, the plan is for people to get a booster eight months after their second shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, federal officials said last week.

It’s likely the plan will prioritize high-risk groups first, such as health care workers and nursing home residents, federal and county officials said.

When can I get a third vaccine, if eligible?

Right now, only people with weakened immune systems are eligible for a third COVID-19 vaccine.

Santa Clara County residents with compromised immune systems can now get another jab to help better protect themselves, local leaders announced last week. These include organ transplant recipients, people undergoing cancer treatment and those with other immunodeficiencies. The county and health experts urge residents to consult with their physicians before getting a third dose.

“We have vulnerable immunocompromised populations who are again at risk because of the rapid spread and high transmissibility of the Delta variant,” said Dr. Jennifer Tong, associate chief medical officer for the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center. “For those, a third dose of vaccine offers a substantial additional layer of protection from infection and serious illness.”

Residents must wait at least 28 days after completing the first two vaccine shots for a third dose. Under the FDA’s guidelines, these are considered “third doses” and not booster shots.

The CDC estimates that about 2.7% of the population of the U.S. is eligible for a third COVID-19 shot.

Does my booster or third vaccine have to be the same brand as my first two?

Health officials say yes. Residents are recommended to bring their vaccination cards so that they can get the same type of vaccine, per CDC guidelines.

How much will it cost?

The vaccines will continue to be free.

Where can I get a booster or third dose?

Residents in Santa Clara County should expect to get their boosters and third doses at the same clinics they went to for their first two doses, County Executive Jeff Smith told the Board of Supervisors last week.

“The critical difference now in terms of the vaccines… is that there’s no longer a scarcity model,” he said, adding that the county plans to finalize its third dose vaccine roll-out plan by mid-September.

Click here to find available drop-in vaccination sites near you.

Contact Tran Nguyen at [email protected] or follow @nguyenntrann on Twitter.

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