As the COVID-19 vaccine rollout continues in the United States, with people ages 12 and older receiving their shots, vaccine makers are now preparing for a next possible phase: booster doses.
Currently three coronavirus vaccines are authorized for emergency use in the United States — the two-dose Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for ages 12 and older, the two-dose Moderna vaccine for ages 18 and older and the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccines for ages 18 and older.
Researchers and health officials suspect that the immunity against COVID-19 these vaccines elicit in the body might wane over long periods of time — say, possibly, after a year or more — and might not protect as well against coronavirus variants that could emerge and evolve.
Therefore, a vaccinated person might need a booster dose of vaccine to stay protected against the original coronavirus strain and newly emerging variants — somewhat similar to how a tetanus booster is recommended every 10 years or different flu vaccines are recommended each year.
Will booster doses or new vaccines be needed?
"Many people may be familiar with tetanus-toxoid vaccines that are recommended every 10 years — that's a booster dose. It's reminding our immune system so that if we ever got exposed to that toxin, our immune system would remember it and respond very quickly," Dr. William Moss, professor and executive director of the International Vaccine Access Center at Johns Hopkins University, told CNN on Friday.
In the case of COVID-19 vaccines it remains unknown for how long immune protection lasts, but vaccine developers and health officials know it may not be forever — and that emerging variants could escape immunity.
"There is a little nuance with Covid-19 vaccines," Moss said.
While typical booster doses use same vaccine someone previously received to remind the immune system about immunity to a pathogen, any future boosters for the COVID-19 shot could use different vaccines altogether.
Currently, "the need for and timing for COVID-19 booster doses have not been established. No additional doses are recommended at this time," the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes on its website.
But Americans should prepare to have a COVID-19 vaccine booster shot within a year, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy told CNN's Wolf Blitzer on Thursday.
"We have to see how long the protection lasts. We know it lasts at least six months, but we'll have to see," Murthy said. "It's very possible, though, and people should be prepared for the fact that we may need a booster within a year."
Read the full story:
Check out more of the latest virus updates:
- The pandemic created treacherous conditions for eating disorders, leading to a surge of new cases and relapses that is not abating as restrictions are loosened and COVID-19 cases subside in many places, doctors and other specialists say.
- Federal health officials’ new, more relaxed recommendations on masks have all but eclipsed another major change in guidance from the government: Fully vaccinated Americans can largely skip getting tested for the coronavirus.
- Government officials and health workers are increasingly turning to creative ways to incentivize people to show up and get a shot, such as holding vaccine events at Las Vegas strip clubs.
- Thanks to growing availability of the coronavirus vaccine and a recent relaxation of federal guidance on masks and distancing, the Biden administration is embracing the look and feel of pre-pandemic days on Pennsylvania Avenue.