The various COVID-19 vaccines are proving to be a gamechanger in curbing the pandemic (at least in the countries that have them) but there are uncertainties on how long they offer protection. Until we have more data, which requires more time, we won't know.
The US is preparing for the possibility booster shots will be needed from between 9 months to a year of the first vaccine. Dr David Kessler, chief science officer for the Biden administration's COVID-19 response task force, told a congressional committee meeting yesterday that this is being considered, and vulnerable people will go first.
"Preliminary data show that neutralizing antibodies persist for some time after the second dose of an mRNA vaccine with a relatively slow decline over time," Dr Kessler stated in his testimony. "As with other vaccines, such as the influenza vaccines, a subsequent dose may be important to provide continued protection against the wild-type strain but also may be critical to 5 maintain protection against variants. The good news is that there are many potential options that we can consider for potential booster doses. We are evaluating and expanding studies to determine which options would be effective to achieve ongoing protection."
The head of Pfizer, the maker of the Pfizer/BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine, also said it's "likely" a third dose, or booster, will be needed within 12 months, in an interview with CNBC. CEO Albert Bourla also noted the possibility of needing yearly booster jabs against the virus.
“A likely scenario is that there will be likely a need for a third dose, somewhere between six and 12 months and then from there, there will be an annual revaccination, but all of that needs to be confirmed. And again, the variants will play a key role,” he told CNBC.
Vaccine boosters are common for diseases that either mutate quickly or for ones where the human body's immune response wanes after a certain period. For SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19, it may be needed for both reasons.
The US Food and Drug Administration has already updated its safety guidelines to make the creation of booster vaccines for COVID similar to those used in making the annual flu vaccine. Current data related to the Pfizer/BioNTech jab suggest that the efficacy up to six months remains very high.
For more information about COVID-19, check out the IFLScience COVID-19 hub where you can follow the current state of the pandemic, the progress of vaccine development, and further insights into the disease.