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The Daily Tar Heel

Column: Yes, you can mix your COVID-19 booster shot brands

UNC's first on-campus vaccine clinic opens Wednesday
UNC pharmacists prepare a vaccine dose in the former Wendy’s in the Student Union on March 31, 2021. As North Carolina began to allow college students to receive coronavirus vaccines, UNC opened a clinic on campus where students can receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

In the last month, the Food and Drug Administration approved emergency use authorization of a supplemental third dose — also known as a booster shot — of the Pfizer-BioNtech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. 

On Oct. 21, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommended these vaccinations and expanded eligibility. This made the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines available to people 65 and older, younger adults with medical conditions that put them at higher risk of severe COVID-19 and those who are work at locations with an increased risk. Johnson & Johnson is already available to anyone 18 and older.

People are eligible for Moderna and Pfizer booster shots six months after completion of their second shot, and Johnson & Johnson booster shots two months after the initial dose. If you don’t fall under any of these categories, you can expect the CDC to expand eligibility for you to get your booster shot within the next few months.

One of the main questions that has arisen since is whether or not to mix and match brands that are different from the original vaccine one received. To understand why you may want to do so, we break it down here:

How the vaccine works

All of the vaccines enable the immune system to make the spike protein from the SARS-CoV-2 virus — which enables the actual virus to invade cells and cause COVID-19. The immune system is then able to recognize these proteins, and generate an immune response against them. 

When someone gets a booster shot, the immune system goes through a secondary immune response, which activates more rapidly with memory cells that were created in the first immune response. From there, more mature antibodies that are more effective at trapping the spike proteins are produced, and can then be activated when someone is exposed to COVID-19.

By getting a booster shot, your body is able to create a stronger and more effective defense against the coronavirus.

Mixing and matching boosters

Multiple studies from the National Institutes of Health have shown that mixing brands of vaccines is safe and effective. 

Additionally, if you originally had the Johnson & Johnson vaccine (which is the only non-mRNA vaccine), studies have shown that you can achieve a higher antibody concentration after receiving an mRNA booster (so either Pfizer or Moderna). However, if you got the Pfizer-BioNtech or Moderna vaccine, following it up with a Johnson & Johnson shot won’t make much of a difference.

With the increase in research and data being completed and gathered over the next several months, we will be able to find if interchanging vaccines have greater advantages in some communities over others.

Why should I get the booster?

It’s imperative that you get your COVID-19 booster given that both vaccines show decreasing efficacy against asymptomatic and mild infections over the first six months after vaccination. However, all three vaccines seem to remain effective in preventing hospitalizations and deaths.

More than 65 million Americans remain unvaccinated. Most deaths and hospital admissions are generally unvaccinated people — by getting your vaccine, you are able to protect vulnerable individuals in the community around you.

Regardless of if you mix and match your vaccine brands, the most important thing is to simply get your booster to remain protected from COVID-19.


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