How Many COVID Boosters Are There?

<p>Emilija Manevska/Getty</p>

Emilija Manevska/Getty

Fact checked by Nick Blackmer

Key Takeaways

  • Past doses of the COVID vaccine will not protect you against the current strains.

  • Vaccine efficacy wanes after three to six months.

  • Current available vaccines include Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Novavax. All are formulated for the XBB.1.5 Omicron subvariant.

At one point in 2021, there was a playful culture war pitting #teampfizer against #teammoderna, with social media tags eliciting posts of loyalty for which brand of vaccine eager adults received. Fast forward two years and the brand loyalty has faded, herd immunity has taken hold, and staying up to date on your vaccines can be confusing.

But it doesn’t have to be, according to public health experts Brian Labus, PhD, MPH, REHS, assistant professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas School of Public Health, and Brad Hutton, MPH, founder of Hutton Health Consulting. While the timing of sequenced vaccines was once of the utmost importance, now there’s only one objective: to have the most recent vaccine available.

“Regardless of whether a person is completely unvaccinated or has received all doses that were recommended since January 2021 (which would have been 5 or more doses so far depending on the manufacturer of the first vaccine you received, your age, and immune status), the recommendations are the same: to receive one dose of the updated COVID-19 vaccine,” Hutton told Verywell.

In fact, the term “booster” is now somewhat of a misnomer. All FDA-approved shots are now considered doses of their brand of vaccine, formulated to address a prominent strain of SARS-CoV-2, which is XBB.1.5, says Hutton.

Since each version of the vaccine is formulated to fight specific variants, the most updated shots are the only ones available.

“It doesn’t make sense to keep producing vaccines against a variant of the virus that no one is catching,” Labus told Verywell.

So, which vaccines are now available for adults? Our guide will help you decide which current COVID vaccine is right for you.

Related: Here's How to Plan For Your Seasonal Vaccinations This Fall

Pfizer and Moderna

Based on groundbreaking mRNA technology, both the Pfizer-BioNTech and the Moderna have been continuously updated since their approval by the FDA in 2021. The original versions, which consisted of a two-dose regimen and a booster shot six months later, were each discontinued for use on April 18, 2023. The single-dose bivalent boosters, which protected against both original COVID-19 and Omicron BA.4 and BA.5, were discontinued on September 11, 2023.

The Pfizer and Moderna doses available as of September 2023 are monovalent, once again designed to primarily target one strain: Omicron XBB.1.5. However, the manufacturers state they should also protect against more current variants, including BA.2.86 and E.G.5.

Even if you’ve received every COVID vaccine dose except the versions available this past fall, you may not be protected against strains of COVID circulating today.

“Multiple previous doses of a vaccine that doesn’t match what is circulating doesn’t give the protection you need against COVID this winter,” Hutton said.

Both mRNA vaccines are considered interchangeable at this point, so if you’ve had one brand in the past, there’s no reason to seek the same manufacturer out unless it’s a matter of preference, said Hutton. Finding a particular brand may be difficult though, as pharmacies and physicians simply take the brand that is currently available.

Related: New COVID-19 Vaccines Should Protect Against BA.2.86 and EG.5, Early Research Shows

Johnson & Johnson

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine by Janssen uses a traditional protein base and was the vaccine of choice for those who were wary of mRNA delivery methods. However, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is no longer available in the United States as of May 6, 2023.

J&J recipients were initially eligible for a booster dose two months after their first shot. Labus said they were encouraged to get a dose of one of the mRNA vaccines as a booster.

Janssen never manufactured an updated or bivalent J&J shot.

Related: Can You Mix and Match COVID-19 Boosters?


A newer option is now available for those who still prefer a protein delivery system: the Novavax adjuvanted vaccine. (An adjuvant is an ingredient that helps to boost the immune system’s response to the vaccine.) Because of manufacturing issues, its approval in the United States was delayed; it received FDA authorization for use in July 2022, with its most recent version going into use on October 3, 2023.

Hutton said that since the Novavax vaccine was produced using more traditional means, some people may feel more comfortable taking it, but its efficacy is comparable with mRNA vaccines.

“All of the currently available vaccines are relatively equal in their ability to prevent severe COVID-19,” Hutton said. “Some may feel that the mRNA has slightly better efficacy. However, the best vaccine is the one that people agree to receive, and that may be different for everyone.”

Related: FDA Authorizes Updated Novavax COVID-19 Vaccine

When Should You Get Your Next Shot?

COVID protection seems to wane roughly three to six months after either your last vaccine dose or last infection, so if you haven’t had either since last winter, a shot is likely in order. Labus notes that not only can you combine your COVID vaccine with the influenza vaccine, but you can even get them in the same arm.

Vaccine cards are no longer as important either. According to Labus, the cards were more important when tracking the original series’s timing, which required two shots. If you do need to track your shots for some reason, contact the location where you received them. Your doctor’s office should be able to look up your vaccine history. If you got your shot at a pharmacy or public health center, you must contact the location where you were seen.

All available vaccines may have mild side effects, such as pain at the injection site, swelling, fatigue, headache, or muscle pain. Still, Hutton said that side effects may be diminished by being well-hydrated and rested before getting your next shot.

What This Means For You

If you can’t remember your last COVID shot, it’s likely time to get another one. Time it with your seasonal influenza shot to protect yourself during respiratory virus season. Current vaccines are available at pharmacies and physicians’ offices.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

Read the original article on Verywell Health.