We are well over a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, and so far, a substantial portion of the U.S population has received some form of a vaccine. As of August, 17 2021 roughly 50.8% of the American population have been fully vaccinated, amounting to 168 million individuals. That being said, much of the world’s population has yet to receive a vaccine, and some nations are experiencing a new wave of outbreaks. As a result, the COVID-19 virus has continued to mutate, developing new variants that could potentially threaten existing immunity. This potential risk has spurred a conversation amongst experts and vaccine manufacturers, many of them asking the question: ‘will we need a vaccine booster shot to protect populations against COVID-19.’
What Is a Booster Shot?
Generally, a booster shot is a supplemental dose of a vaccine that is used to provide a ‘boost’ to an immune system typically administered sometime after the original vaccine. The time it takes for a additional dose to be necessary can vary depending on the vaccine itself and the nature of the virus the dose it is designed for. For instance, tetanus booster shots are given to adult patients every 10 years. Alternatively, a vaccine booster can be necessary if a new strain of a virus crops up that threatens efficacy rates, as may be the case for COVID-19.
Which Vaccines Will Need a Booster Shot?
The COVID-19 virus has mutated rapidly, branching off into four major strains: Alpha, Gamma, Beta, and Delta. Each variant poses its own level of risk, however, the delta variant is expected to become the most dominant strain in the U.S. and has experts the most concerned. It is yet to be known whether this delta variant significantly impacts the efficacy of current vaccines, however, the degree of virility is cause for concern. One question that appears to be on a lot of people’s minds is whether certain COVID-19 vaccines will require a additional vaccine dose to combat against these new variants.
There are currently three major COVID-19 vaccines being administered to the U.S. population: Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Janssen, and each vaccine have its own level of efficacy at protecting patients from COVID-19 infection. The two-dose Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for instance offers an impressive ~90%+ efficacy rate. Alternatively, the single-dose Janssen vaccine delivers 66.3% overall efficacy.
So, which of these three vaccines will require a additional vaccine dose? Well, experts are still torn on the details, but the consensus is that as COVID-19 mutates, our vaccines will need to adapt as well. While the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine provides a high level of antibody protection, they are already in the process of developing booster shots against COVID-19, citing concern over the Delta variant. In fact, Pfizer has plans to seek FDA emergency use authorization for a additional shot of their mRNA vaccine in August.
Meanwhile, at the Forbes Health In Action Summit, Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel announced that a booster for both the flu and COVID are likely to be needed in the future, stating: “First, immunity wanes with time meaning rollover of antibodies you have in your body from the vaccine – all natural infection goes down over time…Two is you don’t know which virus you’re going to get infected with down the road, which variant is one of the four areas alpha, beta, gamma, delta, or even a new one that we don’t know of yet.”
On the other hand developers of the Janssen vaccine, Johnson & Johnson, seem confident that their vaccine will protect individuals against the delta variant, mentioning in a statement that their vaccine provides at least eight months of protection and that the immune response only improves over time. Instead, the company has plans to adapt its vaccines to new variants and is currently in the process of creating software that should assist in that effort.
Will You Need a Booster Shot Every Year?
With Pfizer and Moderna both working to develop a supplemental vaccine shot, and Johnson & Johnson establishing plans to adapt their current vaccine, it is clear that if the COVID-19 virus continues to mutate, some kind of second round of vaccination may be necessary. However, when that additional dose will be needed is still up in the air as it is still unclear how long vaccine protection lasts from the initial dose of the vaccine. Like the flu vaccine, health care experts are starting to wonder whether we’ll need a new COVID-19 vaccine every year so as to keep up with the rapid mutation of the virus. Even Pfizer CEO, Albert Bouria, believes that a third COVID vaccine may be necessary after 12 months of being fully vaccinated, though health care experts have yet to reach a consensus on the subject.
Achieving Herd Immunity
Ultimately, the goal of vaccinations and booster shots is to achieve herd immunity. Herd immunity is defined as the point at which a community is protected from viral infections as enough people get vaccinated or catch the virus. Unfortunately, the mutating virus, a lack of global access to vaccines and widespread vaccine hesitancy all stand in the way of reaching this important step in combatting the virus. As long as these factors are persistent, COVID-19 is likely to continue spreading, mutating, and threatening vaccine efficacy, which in turn may spur the need to develop regular vaccine doses.