New Moderna and Pfizer booster shots of the reformulated COVID-19 vaccine are available — and Bay Area residents are being urged to get boosted ahead of the holidays amid a sharp rise in infection rates.
The updated booster shots, called bivalent vaccines and sometimes referred to as "the omicron booster," target both the original strain of the coronavirus and the widespread BA.4/BA.5 omicron subvariants that have largely evaded previous boosters. These new booster shots "can help restore protection that has waned since previous vaccination and were designed to provide broader protection against newer variants," said CDC Director Rochelle Walensky when initially authorizing the shots in September.
The latest update: As of Dec. 9, these boosters are also available for children age 6 months up to 5 years old. (Bivalent boosters were made available for people age 12 and up in September, and to children age 5 and older in October.)
What should you know about finding a bivalent booster for kids under 5?
A child under 5 who has had three doses of the Pfizer vaccine can't get a bivalent booster (yet).
If your child is under age 5 and has completed their three-dose primary series with the original (monovalent) Pfizer COVID vaccine, they're not eligible for a bivalent booster dose at this time.
The Food and Drug Administration's statement says that's because "children in this age group who already completed their [Pfizer] primary series would still be expected to have protection against the most serious outcomes from the currently circulating omicron variant." The agency says it expects "data to support giving an updated bivalent booster dose for these children" to arrive in January.
What if a child under 5 has started their Pfizer primary series but hasn't had all three doses? In that case, the FDA says that child will get the bivalent booster as their third dose, to replace the previously planned third dose of monovalent vaccine.
You won't find a bivalent booster for kids under 3 at a pharmacy.
The state says that pharmacies aren't authorized to vaccinate children age 2 and under.
This means that unless your child is age 3 or older, you won't be able to get their updated booster (or any COVID shot) at a pharmacy.
The exception to this is CVS's MinuteClinics, which are staffed by providers who can administer a COVID booster or primary series vaccine to kids age 18 months and older. But CVS's regular pharmacies will only offer a bivalent booster to kids age 5 and older (not 3, like other pharmacies).
This means that if your child is between 6 months and 18 months, you'll need to find a bivalent booster appointment for them through My Turn, through your county or through your pediatrician instead of at a pharmacy. Jump to how you can make an appointment for a bivalent COVID booster shot.
Kids under 5 should stay with the vaccine brand they initially received (for now).
Yes, "mixing and match" the new COVID boosters (that is, receiving a different vaccine brand for your bivalent booster from the one you got for your primary vaccine series) has been deemed fine for other age groups. But the CDC's statement authorizing these boosters recommends that children under 5 get the same brand for their booster:
Children ages 6 months through 5 years who previously completed a Moderna primary series are eligible to receive a Moderna bivalent booster 2 months after their final primary series dose. Children ages 6 months through 4 years who are currently completing a Pfizer primary series will receive a Pfizer bivalent vaccine as their third primary dose.
This means that in making an appointment for the bivalent COVID booster shot for a child under age 5, you'll need to be extra-certain that the pharmacy or clinic is offering the vaccine brand you need. You may find that certain locations are low on supply of a particular brand, or are awaiting shipments.
Booster appointments for kids under 5 may take a while to become available.
As the most recently approved age group authorized to receive these updated omicron boosters, you may find that not all pharmacies are offering appointments yet for this age group. The state's My Turn website can also be slow to provide scheduling options for a newly approved age group. If one pharmacy chain or clinic or website isn't offering the appointments you're seeking, you may have to look at other locations if you're looking for a shot ASAP.
Read more about where you can find a bivalent COVID booster shot for a child age 6 months to 5 years.
Officials: Get your booster now
Uptake on the bivalent booster has been relatively low, despite the shots being available for over three months. According to the state's data, only 18% of eligible Californians have received their updated omicron booster.
The calls for increased awareness around bivalent booster shots comes as the United States experiences a so-called "tripledemic" of respiratory viruses: COVID, flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). Find out where to get a flu shot near you, with our without insurance. There is currently no vaccine for RSV.
On Dec. 6, public health officials in Santa Clara County urged residents to seek out not just the updated bivalent booster but also their flu shot. In a statement, county officials noted a "sharp increase" in COVID levels detected in wastewater by the county's monitoring program, calling the numbers "a stark reminder for everyone eligible to get vaccinated against both flu and COVID as soon as possible, especially in advance of the holidays." For context, county officials noted that COVID levels in the particular Palo Alto sewer shed were "higher than they were in January 2022, at the height of the Omicron surge last winter."
Santa Clara officials also noted the "steady rise" of hospitalized patients who were COVID-positive, rising from 98 cases on Nov. 1 to 218 cases by Dec. 2 in Santa Clara County alone. Dr. Sara Cody, health officer and director of public health for the county of Santa Clara, called the most recent COVID surge "not unexpected," in the context of previous surges over the winter holidays in 2020 and 2021.
In addition to encouraging residents to seek out their bivalent COVID booster and their flu shot, Cody also noted that Santa Clara public health officials "continue to strongly recommend testing before gathering and wearing a mask indoors in public settings."
Marin has the highest bivalent booster uptake in the Bay Area so far, while Solano has the lowest rates locally. Check what percentage of people in your county have got their bivalent booster.
- Who is eligible for new COVID boosters?
- Can I "mix and match" the new COVID boosters?
- Where can I find the new COVID booster shot near me?
Keep reading for what you need to know about the new COVID booster shots from Pfizer and Moderna. And remember, whichever shot you get, all COVID vaccinations are free, with or without health insurance.
You also will not be asked about your immigration status or be required to show any proof of citizenship. Getting a COVID vaccine does not make you a public charge and won't affect any current or future green card applications.
Remember, too: If you work in California for an employer with 26 or more employees, you are eligible for up to 80 hours of COVID-related paid sick leave until Dec. 31. This includes time off to get your updated COVID booster or to recover from any side effects — or to take a family member to get their new COVID booster, or care for them while they recover. The law expires at the end of the month, but if you're eligible and have begun to claim COVID sick pay on or before the deadline, you can continue claiming this paid leave into January. Read more about California's paid COVID-related leave.
As of Dec. 9, anyone age 6 months and up who got their last COVID vaccine shot at least two months ago — whether that was their primary vaccination series or their last booster shot — can get an updated COVID booster. But there's specific guidance for different age groups.
Children age 6 months to 5 years:
Ages 5 and up:
The new Pfizer booster is available to those age 5 and older who have had their primary vaccination series.
The new Moderna booster is available to people age 6 and older who have had their primary series.
People age 12 and older will get a full-sized, adult dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna booster. Kids age 5–11 will get a third of an adult dose for their Pfizer bivalent booster, and a half-sized dose of Moderna's bivalent booster is on offer for kids age 6–11.
NPR reports that many vaccine experts are advising that people wait at least four months since either their last shot or their last COVID infection for the boosters to be most effective. And, of course, with all matters relating to your health, it's best to speak directly to your health care provider about the best options available to you.
Yes, everyone except the under-5 age group can "mix and match" brands, regardless of whether you originally got Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson and Johnson shots for your primary vaccine series or your booster(s) after that.
So, for instance, someone 5 or older who originally got the Moderna vaccine can now get a new booster from either Moderna or Pfizer — and vice versa.
Don't assume you'll be proactively contacted about getting the new COVID-19 booster.
Remember that a certain location may only be offering a certain type of new booster, whether that's Moderna or Pfizer. So be sure that the location you're walking into or making an appointment for offers the type of vaccine you need or want, particularly if you're trying to find a bivalent booster for a child. Read more about "mixing and matching" COVID vaccine boosters.
Also make sure the appointment you schedule for your new booster is at least two months after your last COVID vaccine shot, or your last COVID infection. When you're making an appointment for a booster shot, you'll likely be asked for the date of your last COVID vaccine dose or booster dose to ensure you're not getting your shot too soon.
1. Find a Moderna or Pfizer booster shot through a local pharmacy.
Pharmacies are usually the first place that new booster shots become available. Several pharmacy chains are offering online appointments for them, and some also offer walk-in appointments with no prescheduling required.
Remember that pharmacies can't vaccinate kids under 3, with the exception of CVS MinuteClinics, who are permitted to vaccinate kids as young as 18 months old. Jump to more information about bivalent boosters for children under 5.
- CVS COVID-19 vaccine appointments
- Rite Aid COVID-19 vaccine appointments
- Safeway (Albertsons) COVID-19 vaccine appointments
- Walgreens COVID-19 vaccine appointments, or call (800) WALGREENS/(800) 925-4733
- Costco's COVID-19 vaccine appointments
2. Find a Moderna or Pfizer booster shot through My Turn.
My Turn is the state's site for Californians to schedule vaccination appointments, as supplies allow. You can also try to find walk-in appointments through My Turn. Bivalent booster appointments for children under 5 are not yet available on My Turn, as of Dec. 15.
If you visit the My Turn page, select "Make an Appointment." My Turn will ask for your information, and the ZIP code or location you'd like to use to search for vaccine appointments. You can give your home location, or input other locations to see which sites might be available farther away.
You don't need to be a resident or a worker in the particular county where your preferred vaccination site is located, according to the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), which manages My Turn. So don't worry if the site suggests appointments in a different county.