Who Is Eligible for COVID Boosters, Where Can I Get One Amid Omicron Variant Fears

In response to the emergence of the Omicron COVID variant, classified as a variant of concern by the World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has revised its vaccination advice.

CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a statement on Monday: "Today, CDC is strengthening its recommendation on booster doses for individuals who are 18 years and older.

"Everyone ages 18 and older should get a booster shot either when they are 6 months after their initial Pfizer or Moderna series or 2 months after their initial J&J [Johnson & Johnson] vaccine."

Walensky said that the discovery of the Omicron variant—which has been found in at least 16 countries—emphasized the importance of vaccination, boosters, and prevention efforts to protect against COVID.

The CDC has no restrictions on "mixing and matching" COVID vaccinations, meaning that someone who received the Pfizer vaccine, for example, could have the Johnson & Johnson booster and vice versa. This is also the case with the Moderna vaccine.

The CDC has provided a list of locations where a booster vaccination can be obtained. Anyone having difficulty arranging a booster should contact the location where they received their original vaccination. U.S. citizens can also arrange to have their booster in a different location to where they had their first program of vaccinations.

The updated guidance comes amid the spread of the Omicron variant. Commenting on Omicron, Walensky said: "Early data from South Africa suggest increased transmissibility of the Omicron variant, and scientists in the United States and around the world are urgently examining vaccine effectiveness related to this variant."

Omicron is a highly mutated strain of COVID with at least 50 mutations, many of which have never been seen in conjunction before. What makes this a variant of concern is the fact that many of these mutations, at least 30, are clustered on its spike protein.

This is the part of a virus that helps it bind to human cells, meaning that Omicron may have an increased chance of evading both the natural immunity gained by people who have suffered from COVID and recovered, and the immunity conferred by being fully vaccinated.

This possibility is something that is currently being investigated by WHO and other health authorities. As of yet, Omicron has not been detected in the U.S.

Walensky said that even if Omicron does lead to more breakthrough infections than other COVID variants, there is still a strong need for Americans to be vaccinated.

This means that while the agency has stepped up its urging for vaccinated individuals to receive boosters, the main concern for the CDC is still to get unvaccinated Americans fully protected against COVID.

According to The New York Times COVID tracker, just 59 percent of the American population is currently fully vaccinated against COVID.

Walensky said: "I strongly encourage the 47 million adults who are not yet vaccinated to get vaccinated as soon as possible and to vaccinate the children and teens in their families as well because strong immunity will likely prevent serious illness."

COVID Vaccination
A medic prepares a vaccine with an image of COVID in the background. The CDC has revised its advice for American citizens in light of the emerging Omicron variant. kovop58/GETTY