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This story was updated on Nov. 19.
In a change to previous messaging from health officials, everyone in California age 18 and over is now being urged to get a COVID booster shot ahead of Thanksgiving and the December holidays — and the CDC just approved the same expansion nationwide.
People age 50 and older are particularly urged by the CDC to get their booster.
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Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson booster shots of the COVID vaccine have been available for several weeks following an in-depth review by the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of their safety and efficacy. These extra shots were initially recommended on Oct. 21 only for Californians who fit certain criteria from the CDC.
These criteria included age, underlying health conditions and living or working somewhere with a higher risk of COVID exposure. (These rules only applied to people who originally got Moderna or Pfizer shots — everyone who got a Johnson & Johnson shot originally was already encouraged to get a booster.)
But now, the California Department of Public Health is telling providers to let patients judge their own risk, and not to turn anyone age 18 and older away if it’s been long enough since their original shots: at least two months for people who first got a Johnson & Johnson shot, and six months for folks who initially got Moderna or Pfizer. On Friday, the CDC approved the same expansion nationwide and particularly urged all people age 50 and over to get their booster.
In a letter from the California Department of Public Health to local health officials released on Nov. 9, state Public Health Officer Dr. Tomás J. Aragón asked vaccine providers to not turn away a patient age 18 or over who is requesting a vaccine booster if they have completed the required time period since their last dose.
The updated CDPH guidance recommended that providers now allow their patients to “self-determine their risk of exposure,” which Aragón noted could include — but was not limited to — people who:
The patient’s self-determination of risk exposure could, Aragón wrote, include “other risk conditions as assessed by the individual.” (By including people who live with individuals at higher risk of COVID exposure, these examples were already expanding on CDPH’s previous original criteria given at the start of the booster shot rollout.)
Patients currently seeking a COVID booster or an online appointment for a COVID booster are asked to self-attest to their eligibility for the shot. Although a patient might be asked at the booking or appointment stage to state the reason they want a COVID booster, no documentation or proof of eligibility will be required.
During a Nov. 10 press conference in Los Angeles, California Health and Human Services Agency Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly was enthusiastic about widening access to booster shot vaccinations.
“If you think you will benefit from getting a booster shot, I encourage you to go and get it. Supply is available,” he said.
“It’s not too late to get it this week,” Ghaly added. “Get that added protection for the Thanksgiving gatherings that you may attend. Certainly going into the other winter holidays, it is important.”
On Nov. 10, Santa Clara County officials stressed that county residents and workers should get a COVID booster shot if enough time had elapsed since their last shot, saying in a statement that the booster “is appropriate for almost everyone ages 18 and older 6 months following the last Pfizer or Moderna vaccination, or 2 months following the Johnson & Johnson vaccination.”
According to numbers provided by county officials, as of Tuesday only 19% of residents eligible for a booster shot had received one.
“We want to safeguard the public and prevent a COVID-19 surge as the holiday season approaches,” Dr. Sara Cody, Santa Clara County health officer and director of the public health department, said in the statement. “Get your booster now and make your Thanksgiving gathering safer.”
Her colleague, COVID-19 Vaccine Officer Dr. Marty Fenstersheib, added that the county had “plenty of booster vaccination doses and more can be acquired for booster shots.”
Demand for COVID booster shots may be higher as Thanksgiving and the December holidays approach. If availability is low locally for a certain brand of COVID vaccine, remember that the CDC allows mixing and matching of COVID boosters.
You can find an online appointment for a booster shot by trying a mix of the following routes:
You can also find a walk-in appointment through My Turn, or at a clinic or pharmacy if they are offered.
Read our full guide to finding a COVID booster shot near you.
Whichever shot you get, your initial COVID vaccine or your vaccine booster shot will always be free. You do not need health insurance to be vaccinated.
You also will not be asked for proof of citizenship or about your immigration status. Getting a COVID vaccine does not make you a public charge and won’t affect any current or future green card applications.
Some online pharmacy vaccine booking sites, like Walgreens and CVS, may still ask whether you are eligible for a booster according to the CDC’s criteria when you’re making an appointment online. That’s because pharmacies take their cue from federal guidance, not state, and may take a while to update after the CDC’s latest update.
But understandably, that’s making some folks anxious about not being “truthful” in the pharmacy booking process to make their appointment.
If that’s you, what should you do? Remember that patients now seeking a COVID booster are asked to decide their own need, and self-attest to their eligibility. This means that although you might well be asked at the booking or appointment stage to give the reason you want a COVID booster, no documentation or proof of eligibility will be required online or at the appointment.
As of Nov. 18, My Turn has officially removed reference to CDC guidelines for booster shot eligibility, and now allows anyone age 18 and over to make a booster shot appointment in California.
KQED’s Carlos Cabrera-Lomelí contributed to this post.