COVID-19 vaccine boosters are now available to vaccinated individuals who meet certain eligibility requirements.
Three different COVID-19 vaccine types have been widely available for the past year to people ages five years and older. These vaccines are Pfizer-BioNTech (Pfizer), Moderna and Johnson & Johnson's Janssen (Johnson & Johnson).
As a follow-up to these vaccines, vaccine boosters have been created to help maintain protection from the coronavirus. Eligibility for these boosters is based on various factors, such as age, immune system vulnerability and environmental risk.
"For the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, it has to be six months or more since you received your second shot in the initial vaccine," said Kristen Obbink, Iowa State University's lead public health veterinarian. "You're eligible for the booster if you are age 65 or older. Also, those who are aged 18 or older who work in high risk settings, who are immunocompromised or who have other health conditions."
The requirements for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine booster are slightly different. This is because the initial series of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a single dose, while the initial series of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines consist of two doses.
"Anyone 18 years of age or older that received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is eligible for a booster if it's been two months or more since they received that shot," Obbink said.
The boosters are intended to combat the fact that the human body's ability to fight off a virus can decrease over time.
"What the booster does, is it kind of ramps your immune system back up so that the immune cells in your body can recognize the virus even more quickly, and fight it off more effectively," Obbink said. "It's kind of like a little reminder for your immune system about what COVID-19 is."
Similar to the initial vaccines, the booster shots can cause minor side effects. These can include chills, headaches and fatigue. Serious side effects are rare but may also occur.
"It has to do with the fact that your immune system is responding to it, which is good, and that's what we want," Obbink said. "The symptoms are pretty minor and they last for typically, maybe on average, about 48 hours. They are far less than anything you would see if you were actually infected with COVID-19."
When the boosters were first created, health officials recommended people receive a booster that matched their initial vaccine. However, further research has shown that this may not be the best strategy.
"Certainly it's beneficial if you're eligible for boosters, to just get one in the first place," Obbink said. "But now, as more and more research comes out, they're actually finding that it may be beneficial to mix them."
Health officials also recommend that all eligible individuals get both a vaccine and a vaccine booster. However, many factors impact a person's decision to receive vaccination.
For some, the choice to be vaccinated stems from concern for public safety. This includes Clark Stoddard, a sophomore majoring in criminal justice who has not received the booster but plans to in the near future.
"Given how few people wear masks at the university, I think every vaccine helps," Stoddard said.
Some students feel vaccination is not effective unless there is a collective effort towards eradicating the virus.
"Essentially, I'm not going to do it until there is a strict government mandate and the government steps in and is like 'okay we need to 100 percent get it off the planet,'" said a student who wished to remain anonymous. "It's mutating at a rate where everyone needs to get vaccinated within every year, so it's like what's the point?"
In other situations, an already existing medical condition can take away a person's ability to decide for themselves.
"The main reason why I am not vaccinated is because I have epilepsy, which is seizures," said Kaitlyn McFadden, a freshman majoring in animal ecology. "I take medication for it, and I don't know if it's going to coincide, maybe, with my medications and maybe stop one of them from working."
Thielen Student Health Center is offering the initial series to the Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines in addition to the Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson booster shots.
Appointment scheduling and additional information can be found on the Thielen Student Health Center website.