COVID vaccine

What's the difference between a booster and a vaccine? How to stay up to date

All this talk of vaccines, boosters and different types of immunity can be confusing.

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The Food and Drug Administration authorized an updated formula for mRNA COVID-19 vaccines to adjust for the XBB1.5 variant this fall amid a surge in cases right after summer. With a long schedule of Halloween and holiday events coming up as the weather cools down, staying up to date on shots is top of mind.

All this talk of vaccines, boosters and different types of immunity can be confusing. You might even be wondering what the difference is between a vaccine and a booster and how to decide which one to get.

Dr. Sharon Welbel, chief of Epidemiology and Infection Control for Cook County Health, says there isn’t a difference between the two.

“There's no difference between a booster and a vaccine. They're all vaccines,” Dr. Welbel said.

Instead, Dr. Welbel points to a difference in dosages and what the vaccine can do for you depending on your vaccination history.

"This [new] vaccine will boost our own immune response to a previous vaccine or infection with COVID," she said.

A booster refers to an additional dose of the vaccine after the original, but the formula remains the same. Patients who have been previously vaccinated receive one shot of the vaccine ­­– a booster dosage – to update their immune response to the most recently mutated variant.

Those who have not been vaccinated should receive two dosages of that same formula.

Cook County residents can participate in the COVID-19 Community Vaccination Program or go to their health care provider or retail pharmacies for vaccines.

Insured Cook County Health (CCH) patients will have the vaccine billed to their insurer, but those patients should not receive a bill. CCH is also offering vaccines to uninsured individuals at no cost.  

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