Don't Get a Different COVID Booster Before Doing This, Experts Warn

Make sure you do one thing first if you want to mix and match your vaccine.

The next phase of the vaccination rollout is here: booster shots. With multiple groups of people eligible, 15 million people in the U.S. have already received an additional dose of Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson, according to the White House. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have authorized boosters for select Pfizer and Moderna recipients who are six months out from their second shot, as well as all Johnson & Johnson recipients at least two months out from their initial dose. And as long as you're eligible, you don't have to get the same vaccine you received initially for your booster shot, as both agencies have also authorized mixing and matching your vaccine. If you want to take this approach, however, there's a crucial first step.

RELATED: Dr. Fauci Says This Is How to Decide Which Booster to Get.

If you want a different vaccine for your COVID booster than what you got for your initial vaccine series, experts say you should talk to your doctor first. "I think it's incredibly important that you have these conversations with your primary care physician so that they can give you the best advice out there based on your medical conditions," Mohammad Sobhanie, MD, an infectious disease expert at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, told AARP.

This is especially important for people who may be at higher risk for certain adverse reactions in relation to a specific vaccine. Men younger than 30 are more at risk for a rare case of heart inflammation called myocarditis after getting an mRNA vaccine, while women younger than 50 are more at risk for a rare blood clotting event called thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS) after getting the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, per AARP.

Both the CDC and the FDA have determined that mixing and matching your booster is safe, despite these very rare vaccination risks. Early data on mixing and matching vaccines from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) study released Oct. 13 indicated that mixing and matching is a safe approach that might also produce an even stronger boost to your immune response.

"There are no additional safety concerns with mixing and matching and they're not bad choices," Sandra Fryhofer, MD, the American Medical Association's (AMA) liaison to the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), said. "Being able to mix and match greatly increases flexibility. You can choose the boost vaccine depending on the vaccine available and the potential vaccine reactions. It also gives patients and physicians more input in the process."

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If you aren't at risk for any adverse reactions, you might be interested in choosing the booster that's most effective. But in terms of which booster is best, experts say all three elicit strong increases in protection. "I don't think there are any losers here," Kathryn Edwards, MD, a professor of pediatrics at Vanderbilt University Medical Center who studies vaccines, told The Wall Street Journal. "Whether you get the same vaccine or a different one, it's going to boost your immune response."

According to the NIH study, a Moderna booster produced the highest overall antibody levels for the recipients of all three vaccines. This may be particularly relevant for Johnson & Johnson recipients, as getting a Johnson & Johnson booster increased antibody levels much less than Moderna or Pfizer did for those who initially got that shot. The researchers found that while another Johnson & Johnson shot boosted antibodies four-fold for this group, a Moderna booster increased them 76-fold and a Pfizer booster raised them 35-fold.

"Having antibody levels that are higher are probably associated with longer duration of protection," Edwards explained. "So I think that a lot of people that got Johnson & Johnson initially may decide they're going to get an mRNA [booster]."

Other experts warn that the NIH study might not tell the whole story, however. "We don't have all the data yet, and this one small study only measured antibody levels which don't give us the complete picture regarding a person's immunity," Vivek Cherian, MD, an internal medicine physician at Amita Health in Illinois, previously told Best Life.

He added, "In general we've had data now for a number of months for studies that suggest mixing and matching booster doses have a more robust antibody response than getting a booster of your initial vaccine. That being said, it will take time and more data to know which combinations will prove to be most effective."

RELATED: Don't Get Your Booster at CVS Before Doing This, Pharmacy Says.

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