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Do I need a booster if I got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine?

An illustration of a vial of COVID-19 vaccine and a syringe.
Booster shots are coming for those who received COVID-19 vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. But that’s still a question mark for people who received the Johnson & Johnson shot.
(Peter Hamlin / Associated Press)

Do I need a booster if I got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine?

Probably at some point, but health officials still are collecting the data they need to decide.

With boosters being planned in the U.S. as early as Sept. 20 for those who got the two-shot COVID-19 vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, recipients of the single-dose J&J jab are wondering just how well their protection is holding up.

Rest assured, experts say: All the vaccines used in the U.S. — including the J&J vaccine — still are doing their job of preventing hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19.

We look at the science behind the need for COVID-19 booster shots.

“I don’t think there’s any signal that the J&J vaccine is failing at its primary task,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease specialist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

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Despite offering continued protection against severe disease, U.S. officials are planning to make Pfizer and Moderna boosters available to all adults eight months after the second shot based on evidence that effectiveness against infection wanes over time.

Adding to the decision, the vaccines don’t appear quite as strong against the highly contagious Delta variant as they were against earlier versions of the coronavirus.

Lab tests and real-world experience offer reassuring evidence that COVID-19 vaccines offer a high level of protection against the Delta variant.

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said boosters “will likely be needed” for the J&J vaccine. Authorities expect more data to decide in the coming weeks.

That’s in part because the J&J rollout didn’t start until March, several months after Pfizer and Moderna vaccinations began. Another factor is that the J&J shot is made differently.

Also, there are more data about how the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines fare against Delta because they’re more widely used in countries where the variant rose to prominence before its U.S. surge.

There are some real-world data that indicate J&J’s shot holds up against the Delta variant.

A huge study of health workers in South Africa showed the vaccine remained 71% protective against hospitalization from infections caused by the variant, and it was between 91% and 96% effective at preventing Delta-related deaths. And the researchers said the vast majority of so-called breakthrough infections in vaccinated people were mild.

Health officials recommended people receive a booster shot eight months after their second dose of COVID-19 vaccine, ‘to maximize protection.’

J&J has also presented lab data on virus-fighting antibodies that indicate its vaccine protects against the Delta variant for eight months and counting.

Another small lab study has raised questions about whether a two-dose approach would work better — an option J&J is studying.

A separate issue is whether people with severely weakened immune systems should get extra shots as part of their original vaccinations, because they don’t respond as well to any vaccines.

The government now recommends a third shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines for organ transplant recipients and others in this group. But it’s still collecting data before making a similar recommendation for another dose of the J&J vaccine.


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