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The FDA just approved updated COVID boosters. Where and when can you get them in Mass.?

A vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 bivalent booster at a pop-up vaccination event last year.JAMIE KELTER DAVIS/NYT

The Food and Drug Administration on Monday authorized updated COVID-19 boosters from Moderna and Pfizer. The next step is for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to decide whether to recommend the vaccine (highly likely) and who should get it. The CDC is expected to take action Tuesday, allowing vaccinations to begin. Here’s what to know about the latest shots.

When can people get the new boosters?

Once the CDC recommends the vaccine, doses will start rolling out. Pejman Talebian, director of the Immunization Division at the state Department of Public Health, said the vaccine has been manufactured and could be available as early as the middle of this week.


Should I get boosted right away?

The vaccines’ effects wane over time, but how long their protection lasts depends on unpredictable factors, such as how many people are vaccinated and how quickly the virus produces new variants.

Some may be tempted to delay getting the vaccine until a couple of weeks before a big trip or the holidays in order to have maximum protection at those times. But then they risk getting sick in the interim, especially if the winter wave arrives early.

“I can’t predict exactly when the next wave is going to hit,” said Dr. Brian Chow, infectious disease physician at Tufts Medical Center. “It’s easier to get it whenever your schedule allows rather than trying to guess what’s going to happen in the future.”

“There’s no compelling reason to wait,” said Ruanne Barnabas, chief of infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital. People should get the vaccine “as soon as is reasonably possible,” and make an appointment rather than simply thinking you’ll get around to it.

Bottom line: Don’t overthink. Just do it.

How well do the updated shots work?

The new vaccines are tailored to target the more recent coronavirus variants that are circulating. “They target XBB.1.5, a virus variant that was dominant earlier this year when the decision was made on which variant to target,” Barnabas said. “Although new variants have emerged, preliminary data suggest good protection from the new vaccines.”


One new variant that had raised alarms, known as BA.2.86, has turned out to be less of a threat – and lab tests suggest that the new booster will work against it.

Data about virus levels in waste water and severe illnesses in hospitals suggest an uptick in COVID-19 in recent days, but cases are not as high as this time last year. Doctors expect COVID-19 transmission to increase during the winter respiratory season but not to the degree seen in previous years.

How will children get the COVID-19 vaccine?

If the CDC recommends the new booster shot for children, it will become available right away and will be rolled into the state’s childhood immunization program, which provides all recommended vaccines to all children for free. Pediatricians and family doctors order the vaccines for their patients and administer them in their offices.

Is the vaccine free for adults as well?

In Massachusetts, health insurers are covering the cost of the vaccine.

Additionally, the state expects to receive 30,000 doses from the federal government for uninsured people, which will be distributed to community health centers, mobile vaccination sites, and local health authorities, Talebian said.

Walgreens and CVS are also slated to receive doses designated for uninsured people through the federal program, he said.

“We’re pretty confident there will be enough doses” for anyone in the state without health insurance, Talebian said.

Where can an adult get a vaccine?

There are several avenues.

Providers can order it, so it may be available in your doctor’s office.


Pharmacies will also be offering the vaccine. CVS said its pharmacies and MinuteClinics are preparing to provide the booster as soon as it’s available, and patients can make an appointment online at or through the CVS app, or they can walk in to receive it. Walgreens said that eligible individuals will be able to schedule appointments within 24 hours after the CDC recommendation. Appointments can be scheduled through the Walgreens app, by visiting or by calling 1-800-WALGREENS.

Additionally, the state health department runs mobile or pop-up vaccination sites across Massachusetts, including in Boston, Brockton, Randolph, and Lowell. “They go into certain high-risk areas and bring the vaccine to the groups most vulnerable,” Talebian said.

And finally, for those who may have difficulty getting to a vaccination site, including children, the state also offers in-home vaccinations. Appointments can be made online or by calling (833) 983-0485 Monday to Friday between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

What about people in long-term care facilities?

Talebian said it’s likely the CDC will recommend that long-term care facilities vaccinate all patients, and they will obtain the vaccine through the long-term care pharmacies. The state is tracking COVID vaccination rates and will follow up with sites that have low rates, he said.

“Nursing facilities will continue to work diligently to educate residents, their families and caregivers on the importance of vaccination and obtain consent for the new shot,” said Tara Gregorio, president of the Massachusetts Senior Care Association, a nursing home trade group. Asked if she foresaw any obstacles, Gregorio said in an email, “We would anticipate the same obstacles as seen with the other boosters — vaccine fatigue, inability to obtain consent from family or resident representatives.”


Does it matter which booster I get?

Nope. They’re both good.

“We have every reason to believe” that the vaccines are “equally effective,” said Chow, of Tufts.

The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines use the mRNA technology, which instructs the body to make a replica of the spike protein that’s found on the virus. The spike’s presence primes the immune system to attack the virus should it enter your body.

“An amazing number of people worldwide have gotten these mRNA vaccines,” said Dr. Kimiyoshi J. Kobayashi, chief quality officer for UMass Memorial Medical Center. “We have really great data to show these mRNA vaccines have been very safe.”

It also doesn’t matter, experts say, which manufacturer’s vaccine you received in the past. There is no harm in “mixing and matching.” There might even be a small benefit, but it’s too minimal to be worth going out of your way.

“I don’t think you need to be intensely brand-loyal,” Chow said, “I don’t think you should actively seek out a different brand.”

Felice J. Freyer can be reached at Follow her @felicejfreyer.