Vaccine Boosters

I heard there are now booster shots for the COVID-19 vaccine. Is that true?

Yes, that’s true. The FDA recently authorized the administration of a third booster shot of the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines for immunocompromised people. To provide better protection against COVID-19 and its variants, the CDC recommends that vulnerable individuals get this booster as soon as they can.

What is a booster shot?

A booster shot is an additional dose of a vaccine. In this case, it’s a third dose of the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.

Boosters are given when the initial protection of a vaccine series begins to weaken.

What does it mean to be immunocompromised? How do I know if I qualify?

Immunocompromised people are typically those who have received an organ transplant or have another condition that weakens their immune systems. In particular, most immunocompromised folks fall into one of these specific categories:

  • Active treatment for cancer
  • Receipt of solid-organ transplant and taking immunosuppressive therapy
  • Receipt of CAR T-cell or hematopoietic stem cell transplant (within two years of transplantation or taking immunosuppression therapy)
  • Moderate or severe primary immunodeficiency (e.g., DiGeorge, Wiskott-Aldrich syndromes)
  • Advanced or untreated HIV infection
  • Active treatment with high-dose corticosteroids (i.e., ≥20mg prednisone or equivalent per day), alkylating agents, antimetabolites, transplant-related immunosuppressive drugs, cancer chemotherapeutic agents classified as severely immunosuppressive, TNF blockers, and other biologic agents that are immunosuppressive or immunomodulatory

If you think you qualify, discuss with your health care team about when you should receive your booster.

Should my booster be from the same manufacturer as my original vaccine series?

Yes. It is recommended but not required, that the booster shot be the same vaccine as your original COVID-19 series.

How long should I wait to receive my booster after my second dose?

You should receive your booster at least 28 days after your second dose from your original vaccine series.

Should children over 12 who are immunocompromised get the booster?

Yes, they should be eligible to receive the booster. Discuss with the child’s care team before scheduling.

I got the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine and am immunocompromised. Can I get a booster?

Currently, there isn’t data to support the use of a booster to immunocompromised people who got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The FDA and CDC are looking into this further to ensure that our vulnerable populations have the protection they need.

Johnson & Johnson Vaccine Update

Is the Johnson & Johnson vaccine being used again?

Yes. On April 23, 2021, the CDC and FDA recommended that the pause on the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine be lifted, and distribution of the vaccine be resumed.

Why was the pause lifted?

After a thorough safety review, the FDA and CDC have confidence that this version of the COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective, and that the benefits far outweigh any potential risks.
Read more on the safety assessment here.

Why was distribution of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine paused?

As of April 13, 2021, the CDC and FDA recommended that administration of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine be paused.

This halt is being done out of an abundance of caution after six female recipients, between age 18 and 48, developed a rare blood clot disorder — known as cerebral venous sinus thrombosis — within about two weeks of vaccination.

Nearly 7 million people in the U.S. have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and this blood clot disorder appears to be extremely rare.

I received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, what should I do?

If you received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and develop severe headaches, abdominal pain, leg pain, or shortness of breath within three weeks after vaccination, contact your health care provider or seek immediate medical attention. Do not delay receiving care if you have any of these symptoms.

Receiving the vaccine

How do I get a vaccine?

You can get your COVID-19 vaccine free of charge at a convenient location — like a local pharmacy. Use to find a location near you, then call or visit their website to make an appointment. Getting your vaccine is quick, easy, and most importantly, effective. Visit to schedule your appointment today.

How much will a COVID-19 vaccine cost?

Highmark members will receive the vaccine free of charge — however, some administrative fees may apply.

Why should I get the COVID-19 vaccine?

This pandemic has affected millions of Americans and vaccinating is the safest, most effective way to build protection against Coronavirus. Together, we can develop “herd immunity,” meaning roughly 70% of the population can fend off the disease. Ultimately, this will slow the spread.

If we all do our part and receive a vaccine when it’s available to us, we can work together to eradicate Coronavirus. Learn more about vaccine safety from the CDC.

What if I’m young and healthy? Do I need the vaccine?

Yes. While your risk of serious illness decreases at a younger age, you could still carry Coronavirus and risk infecting other individuals. For example, you may carry the virus, experience no symptoms, but pass it along to immune-compromised friends or family. Don’t put others health at risk. Together, we can eradicate Coronavirus.

Does getting the vaccine really help my community?

It certainly does. When you get vaccinated, you help your friends, family, and community stay safe. Because of various diseases or severe allergies, some people can’t get vaccinated. When you receive a COVID-19 vaccine, you’re doing your part to keep our society safe and healthy.

After I receive the vaccine, do I still have to wear a mask?

Yes, you do. It’s important you continue to follow safety guidelines: wear a mask, social distance, and frequently wash your hands.

If I have Coronavirus antibodies, do I need the vaccine?

Yes, you should still receive the vaccine. Many antibody tests are not specific enough to guarantee that you actually had Coronavirus.

I had Coronavirus. Do I need the vaccine?

Yes, you should still receive the vaccine. The immunity gained from the vaccine may be longer-lasting than natural immunity from the infection

I got my annual flu shot. Do I need the COVID-19 vaccine?

Yes, you do. While the flu shot is a great way to protect yourself from the seasonal flu, it will not protect against Coronavirus.

Is it mandatory to receive the COVID-19 vaccine?

Highmark strongly encourages both our employees and our members to receive the vaccine. While it is not mandatory, getting the vaccine will help protect yourself, your loved ones, and the community. You can help bring an end to this deadly pandemic.

Vaccine Safety

Once I’m eligible, should I get the vaccine? Is it safe?

It is highly recommended that you receive the vaccine when you can. Like other medicines and vaccines you receive, the COVID-19 vaccines currently available through the FDA’s Emergency Use Authorization have gone through extensive testing to demonstrate they work as intended and are safe.  The vaccines currently authorized by the FDA have shown to be highly effective in preventing coronavirus infection, and can help protect you and your community.

What does emergency use authorization mean?

The FDA gave the COVID-19 vaccine what’s called Emergency Use Authorization (EUA). With millions of Coronavirus cases in the United States alone, EUA was granted to distribute the vaccine as quickly as possible.

EUA does not mean that safety was compromised or that the vaccine somehow skipped deep analysis and testing. It simply means that this vaccine was prioritized above all others and that multiple steps worked in parallel together. It was a collaborative, all-in effort by the FDA  to address this public health crisis and keep our communities safe.

How do the COVID-19 vaccines work?

Pfizer and Moderna are mRNA vaccines. This type of vaccine involves injecting an inactivate strand of a virus into our bodies. This strand provides our bodies with Coronavirus “RNA instructions,” which ultimately trigger an immune response and allow our bodies to fight off the virus.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is an adenovirus vector vaccine. This vaccine does not expose you to the Coronavirus. Instead, it shows your immune system a weakened, common cold virus “disguised” as the Coronavirus. The immune system then uses these replicas to recognize — and fight off — the real thing.

What are the side effects of receiving the vaccine? Can I become infected with Coronavirus?

Like many other vaccines, trial participants noted mild to moderate symptoms — like soreness at the injection site or feeling slightly lethargic. The COVID-19 vaccines do not contain the virus. You cannot become infected with Coronavirus as a result of receiving the vaccine.

I’m pregnant, should I get the vaccine?

We recommend you discuss your options with your OB-GYN.

I have children, should they get vaccinated?

As of May 10, 2021, the FDA has amended the emergency use authorization for Pfizer- BioNTech to include kids 12-15 years old. In line with the latest news from the CDC, The FDA strongly recommends that families get their eligible children the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination at their first opportunity. This is the only manufacturer at this time who has received this amendment. Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are still only authorized for 18 and older. The vaccine is not yet approved for infants and young children.

About the COVID-19 Vaccine

I heard Pfizer’s, Moderna’s, and Johnson & Johnson’s vaccines were approved. Will there be others available?

As of December 2020, the FDA granted Emergency Use Authorization of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. The FDA granted an Emergency Use Authorization for Johnson & Johnson in February 2021. Millions of doses are being distributed and continuing to be manufactured.

There are several other pharmaceutical companies developing vaccines, but none have applied for FDA approval at this time. Visit Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to learn more.

How is the Johnson & Johnson vaccine different?

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine only requires one dose and doesn’t have the same cold storage and distribution constraints as the vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna.

How effective is the Johnson & Johnson vaccine?

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is 72% effective against moderate to severe infection in the U.S, and 85% effective against serious symptoms.  All three vaccines are reported to be equally effective at preventing hospitalization and death related to COVID-19.

How effective are the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines?

Both the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines are over 90% effective. For reference, the FDA set a bar that the vaccine must be at least 50% effective to be considered for authorization. Both versions are far surpassing that. For further perspective, annual flu vaccines are 40-60% effective, whereas the two doses of the measles vaccine are 97% effective.

Getting Vaccinated

How long do I have to wait between COVID-19 vaccine doses?

The second dose should be scheduled 21 days after the first shot for the Pfizer vaccine, and 28 days after for Moderna. You should try to get your second shot as close to the recommended three-week or one-month interval as possible — it’s most likely you scheduled it at the end of your first appointment.

How many doses of the COVID-19 vaccine do I need?

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been proven effective with just one dose.

How long does it take for the second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to be effective?

Moderna reported that full protection starts at 14 days after the second dose, while Pfizer reports seven days after the second dose. After your second dose, you should still continue to wear a mask, socially distance, and wash your hands.

Why do I need two doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines?

While the first vaccine shot offers some protection from COVID-19, the second shot increases your protection from the virus significantly and helps it last longer. If you don’t get the second shot, the effectiveness of the vaccine is compromised, which puts you and those around you at greater risk.

Do I still need to wear a mask after I am vaccinated?

Yes. Right now, we still don’t know if getting vaccinated prevents you from spreading the virus to other people. For the safety of those around you, please continue to follow CDC mask guidelines until everyone has the opportunity to get vaccinated.

Does the vaccine protect against other COVID-19 strains and variations?

While studies suggest that current vaccinations will protect against new strains, the CDC has not confirmed for sure yet. Check the CDC website for updates on COVID-19 strains.

What should I bring with me to my appointment?
  • Photo ID – Bring a photo ID so they can verify your name for the vaccination system.
  • Face Mask – You’ll need to wear a mask that covers your nose and mouth.
  • Insurance Card – Bring your health insurance card with you.
  • Original Medicare Card – Some providers require Medicare members to bring their original (red, white, and blue) Medicare card.