Omicron's rise has been abrupt and startling. Like Delta, the WHO's director-general said earlier this month, Omicron causes infections severe enough to lead to hospitalization and death, particularly among unvaccinated people. You should take every opportunity to protect yourself and your loved ones from it, and the latest shield available to you is a booster shot.
Booster shots, like initial doses of the vaccination, may not completely prevent you from contracting Covid-19. But they lessen your chances of contracting it, and if you do catch a breakthrough case of Covid-19, you're far less likely to end up in the hospital with a severe infection. More than 9 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines have been given worldwide since the pandemic began. The three vaccines used in the US—Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson—have been taken by hundreds of millions of people around the world by now, and they've been found to be safe and effective. In short, they cannot get you sick with Covid-19.
Vaccinations have led humanity out of many of history's most devastating diseases, such as polio, smallbox, and measles, and the Covid-19 vaccines—along with social distancing, masks, and smart policy decisions regarding reopening businesses—will be our path forward to living with Covid long-term. States, territories, and our one state-like district (DC) all have wide latitude to set their own Covid-19 policies and procedures. Advice and paths to a Covid-19 vaccine are going to differ based on which part of the US you live in, but we've put together a guide that should give you an accurate overview of how to get the jab.
If this guide (or any other) may help others get vaccinated, please send them a link.
Table of ContentsCheck Your EligibilityFind Places You Can Get VaccinatedWhat to Bring to Get VaccinatedGetting Your VaccineIf You Still Need an Initial VaccineA Few More Things to KnowStep 1: Check Your Eligibility
All American adults, regardless of occupation or preexisting health conditions, are able to sign up for a booster appointment. At least five months must have elapsed since your primary Pfizer-BioNTech or your Moderna series, and at least two months after your Johnson & Johnson. Children age 12 and up are eligible are also eligible to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech booster. If, and only if, a child aged 5 and up is moderately or severely immunocompromised, they can also receive a Pfizer-BioNTech booster shot.
There's no federal or nationally centralized list onto which you sign up for a booster shot. Each state, territory, and freely associated state has sign-up information available on its own health department website. Odds are that a vaccine appointment is already available near you. About 90 percent of the population in the US has a vaccine site within 5 miles of where they live.
Some health department sites are more helpful than others, offering telephone hotlines, statewide sign-up lists, and eligibility checkers that will say whether you can get a vaccine yet if you answer a few questions about your age, gender, profession, and health conditions. Other states merely direct you to a list of vaccination providers to call yourself.
Step 2: Find Places You Can Get Vaccinated
Check out Vaccines.gov (formerly VaccineFinder), built by Boston Children's Hospital and the CDC, to locate available vaccines near you, and follow its Twitter account for updates. Other places to check include:
Doctor's offices, hospitals, and urgent care centersLocal community health centersState and local health departments. Find yours on Vaccines.gov or the CDC's list of links. Vaccination sites run the gamut: They could be MLB and NFL stadiums, mobile clinics, convention centers, or cities' public health clinics.CVS, Walgreens, Costco, Walmart, Rite Aid, Kroger, Publix, Safeway, Albertsons, Winn-Dixie, Hy-Vee, Texas-based H-E-B, and other pharmacies, retail stores, and grocers may offer booster shot appointments via their own websites and processes. Target also offers vaccinations in partnership with its in-store CVS locations.
Vaccination sites let you make an appointment so that you can be sure you're not in for a long wait when you arrive. Now that vaccines are widely available, it's fine to walk in without an appointment. It's not guaranteed they'll have space, though, so if you want to make sure you won't have a long wait, make an appointment beforehand.
A government-provided vaccination site, such as a community health center or public health department, might be the safest option if you're worried about surprise medical bills or don't want to reveal your citizenship or immigration status. They tend to be free, too. In our research and experience, we found that many say they don't ask for health insurance information or immigration status on their websites. Check with your local facilities to make sure.
Most states also run mobile vaccination units, a broad catchall term for pop-up tents, buses, and trailers that are regularly driven to different locations. They typically show up in areas where residents have limited ability to go to a vaccination site, such as low-income neighborhoods, nursing homes, and rural areas.
While a state or city's website for government facilities might only drop new appointment openings on certain days or at certain times, private companies operating in those states aren't held to the same schedule. Each company seems to have a different time at which they drop new appointments, so openings are scattered across the day.
Step 3: What to Bring to Get Vaccinated
Like the initial vaccines, booster shots are typically covered by your health insurance, but it pays to check with your provider and the office before you commit to an appointment. Surprise bills are a problem in this country.
Private practices and retail locations, such as pharmacies, usually require you to bring an ID and health insurance card and may ask for the name of your primary care physician. Vaccination sites run by government services, such as at community health centers and public health departments, don't typically ask for health insurance info, but you may need proof of state residency.
Depending on your state, it may be possible to use school records, samples of mail addressed to you, or a statement from another person as a substitute for a government-issued ID. But be sure to check with the specific vaccination site you've decided upon.
Step 4: Getting Your Vaccine
In the United States, the three booster vaccines available to the public right now via emergency authorization by the FDA are from Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech, and Johnson & Johnson's Janssen.
The CDC recommends the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech booster shots over the Johnson & Johnson. A British study published in the Lancet compared the immune responses of six vaccines, including the three vaccines available in the US, and found that the mRNA vaccines—Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech—provided the strongest protection, although all six booster vaccines did increase immune system protection. It is also safe to mix and match your primary and booster vaccine.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has granted full approval to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, and the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson shots continue under Emergency Use Authorization. Moderna has requested full approval, and Johnson & Johnson says they plan to request full approval within the year.
Vaccination sites typically tell you which brand of booster shot is available and let you choose when scheduling. It takes two weeks after your booster shot for your body to build up its maximum defenses, so remember that until then your body is still building up its immune system protection.
The CDC also offers advice on what to expect at your vaccination appointment. You may get asked if you've been exposed to Covid-19 or shown any symptoms lately, and the facility should ask you to sit and wait for a period of 15 minutes after getting your vaccine to ensure you don't have a severe reaction, or 30 minutes if you've had a reaction to a vaccine or injection before. You should also be given a card that tells you the vaccine you got and the date (keep it).
After your vaccination, you can sign up for V-safe, the CDC's Health Checker website. It will send you phone notifications to fill out an easy survey in the days and weeks after getting your vaccine, asking about any symptoms you've experienced and notifying you when you should get your second dose.
A few warnings: Don't get any other vaccinations in the 14 days before or after your Covid-19 vaccination. Don't preemptively take new medications before vaccination, even over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen, or stop taking your normal medications before your appointment; talk to a doctor before the appointment and tell them what you're on, though. They may have some advice for you.
If You Still Need an Initial Vaccine
Even if you've already had Covid-19, your antibodies won't last forever. You should still get vaccinated when you can. Plus, the protection you receive from a vaccination is stronger than the protection you get from having had Covid-19. If you had Covid-19 and a vaccination, then that's even stronger. I was a healthy guy who hit the gym regularly and had no existing health conditions, but Covid knocked me flat on my ass for five weeks in 2020 before there were any vaccines available. I was only 31.
Moderna: Requires two doses. The second shot should be given four weeks after the first (six weeks maximum).Pfizer-BioNTech: Requires two doses. The second shot should be given three weeks after the first (six weeks maximum).Johnson & Johnson Janssen: Requires one dose. There's no need for a second shot.
Protection isn't immediate after a shot. It takes about two weeks after Moderna's or Pfizer-BioNTech's second shot, and two weeks after the single Johnson & Johnson shot for your body's immune system to reach its maximum strength against the virus. Johnson & Johnson is currently testing a two-dose version of its vaccine, but the findings aren't ready yet, and so it's only being given as a one-dose shot at this time. In its clinical trial, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine had a lower overall efficacy than the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech, but all three are great at preventing severe cases of Covid-19 that would lead to hospitalization or death.
On April 25, 2021 the US resumed administering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine after pausing it on April 13, 2021 to investigate a possible link between it and a rare type of blood clot that can appear within two weeks of being given the shot. There have been half a dozen or so reported cases of complications out of the 17.8 million doses administered in the US.
A Few More Things to Know
The CDC recommends that you bring your original vaccination card when you show up for your booster, as many vaccination sites will ask for either the card or a photograph of the card. Your vaccine provider will double-check to make sure that five months has elapsed since your primary series, and add all your information—vaccination site, date, time, brand of booster vaccine, and details on the production batch of booster you received—to your previous doses' information in one place. Keep your vaccination card safe.
Many venues, restaurants, bars, and methods of travel require proof of vaccination now. You need to keep your card safe so that you can use it as a pass. Carrying your physical card with you everywhere might be risky. Many cities and states have their own Covid pass apps for iPhones and Androids so that you can have your Covid pass information always handy without risking your physical card. There's also the nationwide CommonPass app.
Don't laminate your vaccination card. Stick it in a Ziploc if you're worried about keeping it safe, and put it somewhere you know you'll be able to find it in three or four weeks when you're due for your second dose. If you lose your card, you can go back to the site and get another one printed off. Take a picture of it so that you have the information as a backup, just in case.
There are some side effects to the vaccines, but allergic reactions are rare. If you've had allergic reactions to vaccines before, tell the person giving the vaccination as soon as you arrive. They'll probably ask you to hang around for a little while after the shot, just to make sure.
Here's a list of vaccine myths and facts that slaps down the persistent lies floating around social media and conspiracy websites. For example, the vaccines will not alter your DNA or make it unsafe for you to have a baby. They also won't make you magnetic.
Even after you are fully vaccinated, keep wearing a mask in public (or get one). The CDC has updated its recommendation for vaccinated people to wear masks indoors and in certain other situations, as the risk level has changed since mask rules were relaxed earlier this year. Masking up keeps everybody—even you—safer.
Finally, if there are folks in your life who might need help getting vaccinated, share the knowledge and give them a hand. Every vaccination makes us all a little bit safer.
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