Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation™ Blog - Tips For Talking To Patients About The Updated COVID-19 Booster
NOTE: COVID-19 and COVID-19 vaccine information can change. For the most up-to-date guidelines, please visit the CDC page titled, “Stay Up to Date with COVID-19 Vaccines Including Boosters.”
People want to put COVID-19 behind them. But while most COVID-related restrictions are gone, the virus is here for the foreseeable future.
“The COVID virus is sneaky and able to adapt and change as we develop protection against it,” says #healthynurse Melody Butler, BSN, RN, CIC, infection preventionist, and the founder and executive director of Nurses Who Vaccinate. “Unfortunately, we were not able to eradicate it quickly enough. Now we have different variants. The longer people go without vaccinating, the more mutations we’ll have down the road and the more variants we’ll need to worry about in the future.”
But being “up to date” with COVID vaccinations can sometimes feel like a moving target. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) consider patients to be up to date once they get the newest COVID booster — an updated bivalent vaccination that targets newer variants. But you may find that some of your patients are hesitant or unsure whether they need it.
To help you navigate conversations with your patients about the updated COVID-19 booster, Melody recommends taking the following steps:
Present Yourself as a Source of Information
Nurses are generally considered trustworthy and approachable, so use that to your advantage. If your patient is resistant to getting the updated COVID-19 booster, ask them what’s causing their hesitation. They may be misinformed or have lingering questions about the booster. Getting them to talk about the booster is an essential first step.
Take the time to learn about the COVID-19 booster shot so you can answer common patient questions such as:
What makes this COVID-19 booster different from prior vaccinations?
The initial COVID vaccinations and boosters were monovalent — offering protection from one strain of the virus. The updated booster is bivalent and stimulates an immune response against two different antigens or types of COVID-19, targeting the original strain and Omicron BA.4 and BA.5.
“The current booster provides stronger protection against recent COVID-19 variants,” Melody says. “It also helps to rebuild immunity that may have diminished since previous vaccinations.”
Who should and should not get the new booster?
If it’s been 2 months or more since their prior COVID-19 vaccine, the CDC recommends people 5 and older receive an updated bivalent booster. The bivalent booster brand you get does not need to match the product you received for previous COVID-19 vaccinations or boosters. But the Pfizer-BioNTech booster is the only one recommended for 5-year-olds. People 6 and older can get either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna booster. (Editor's note: Since this blog was written, the CDC expanded the use of updated bivalent COVID-19 vaccines for children aged 6 months to 5 years on December 9, 2022).
There are some situations that may require extra consideration:
- Anyone planning pregnancy, pregnant, or recently pregnant should receive the updated booster.
- Moderately or severely immunocompromised people should get one updated booster dose.
- Patients who got more than one monovalent booster previously should get the new booster.
- People who had a severe allergic reaction to a prior COVID vaccine should speak with their health care provider before getting the new booster.
When should I wait to get the new booster?
You should plan on getting the updated booster as soon as recommended by the CDC or your healthcare provider. But the CDC identifies two situations that may warrant waiting to get the bivalent booster:
- If you’ve been diagnosed with COVID-19 recently: Reinfection is possible but not very likely in the weeks after a COVID-19 diagnosis. People who recently had COVID-19 may want to wait 3 months from symptom onset or a positive COVID test before getting the booster. But if you are high-risk or the virus is rampant in your community, you may want to consider getting it sooner. If your COVID-19 treatment included monoclonal antibodies or convalescent plasma, you do not need to wait to get the new booster.
- If you have multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS): MIS is a rare condition associated with COVID-19 that causes inflammation in various parts of the body, including the heart, lungs, brain and gastrointestinal organs. Adults or children who have or recently had MIS should not get COVID vaccinations until they are fully recovered, and 90 days have passed since the initial MIS diagnosis.
How do I know the new booster is safe?
The COVID-19 booster shots follow the same guidance and stringent monitoring as other vaccines, Melody says. The FDA authorizes vaccinations based on their safety and the effectiveness data we have available.
Melody notes. “Right now, I am more concerned about the effects of long-term COVID.”
What side effects should I expect when I get the new booster?
Side effects of the updated COVID-19 booster are similar to other COVID vaccines. After vaccination, you may experience:
- Low-grade fever
- Muscle and joint pain
- Pain at the site of injection
Make the COVID-19 Booster Part of Your Regular Vaccine Recommendations
As COVID-19 vaccinations and boosters become an expected part of preventive care, like the flu vaccine, people may be more likely to get the protection. Many older patients will be candidates for the flu and pneumococcal vaccines, and Melody recommends adding COVID to that list.
“Work it into your assessment and recommendations for your patients, reminding them that it’s respiratory illness season,” she says. “Say, ‘If you haven’t already, I highly recommend getting your flu and COVID booster, if not now, then soon.’”
Identify Resources for Your Patients (and Yourself)
It’s helpful that you can answer your patients’ questions during their office visits. But they’ll likely have questions about COVID vaccinations outside of their appointment.
The CDC is an excellent resource for up-to-date information on COVID. But urge your patients to also look to their local department of health. They’ll have information tailored to their population and community.
If you want to learn more on your own, check out organizations associated with nursing or your specialty. ANA offers a COVID-19 resource center and a COVID-19 vaccines resource page.
Set an Example
Staying up to date with your COVID vaccinations is an easy way to show your patients that it’s safe and important. But as a nurse, you know that vaccines are not the only precaution to take to stay healthy. Make sure that you practice and encourage:
- Cleaning surfaces regularly
- Wearing a mask
- Properly isolating, when warranted
- Washing hands often
“Reach into your bucket of tools and take the proper precautions,” Melody says. “These steps are all an important part of protecting yourself and your patients.”
Do you have tips for talking to patients about getting necessary COVID-19 vaccinations? We’d love to hear what worked for you. Share with us in our discussion.