Dr. Fauci Says These 2 Things Determine If You Need a COVID Booster

The nation's top infectious disease expert explains when you might need that second or third shot.

About 119 million people across the U.S. are now fully vaccinated against COVID, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And nearly half of all adults in the country have received at least one dose of their vaccine regimen. But now, many people are growing increasingly curious about when additional vaccine shots will be needed (a third Pfizer or Moderna shot or a second Johnson & Johnson vaccine). During a recent Q&A with The News & Observer, Anthony Fauci, MD, the chief White House medical adviser, offered some insight into this widely discussed topic. The nation's top infectious disease expert revealed that there are two ways to determine whether or not you need a COVID booster shot—read on to see what Fauci had to say.

Fauci said durability of the vaccine and emerging variants will determine if and when you need a COVID booster shot.

woman receives covid vaccine, wearing face mask
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During the May 11 virtual interview, The News & Observer told Fauci that the most common question they got for him from readers was regarding COVID booster shots. After explaining it's unclear when boosters will begin to be rolled out, he confirmed they are "likely." "It is conceivable, and probably likely that at some time, we'll need a boost for one or both of two reasons. One, for the durability of the actual response, that it wanes and comes down, you want to keep it up," Fauci explained during the Q&A session. "And then also there might be some problematic variants that evolve that you might want to specifically vaccinate against the variant."

According to the CDC, there are currently five variants of concern (VOCs) in the U.S. Most prevalent is the U.K. variant, B.1.1.7., first identified in the U.S. in Dec. 2020; then there's the South African variant, B.1.351, and Brazilian variant, P.1, first found in the U.S. in Jan. 2021; and B.1.427 and B.1.429, found in California in Feb. 2021. The existing vaccines have been proven to offer substantial protection against these variants.

RELATED: Pfizer Executive Says This Is Who Will Get COVID Booster Shots First.

Clinical trials of COVID booster shots are underway.

dr. fauci speaks at a meeting
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Fauci also noted that booster shots are being tested as we speak. "We're preparing with clinical trials to determine what kind of an increase in both the level and the durability of the responses," Fauci told The News & Observer. "I wouldn't be surprised that somewhere down the line, we would need to get boosted."

These follow-up shots will hopefully be ready and approved sooner rather than later, just to be safe. Corinne M. Le Goff, Moderna's chief commercial officer, recently said boosters will likely be available by the end of 2021. "It is likely that the countries that have already achieved high vaccine coverage are going to be ready to shift their focus to boosters in 2022 and possibly even starting at the end of this year," Le Goff said during an April call with investors, Insider reports.

You likely won't need a COVID booster shot for at least six months.

Person getting covid-19 vaccine close up
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Fauci offered some reassurance for the vaccinated population in April, telling Washington, D.C.'s Fox 5 that we have "a ways to go" before we need to be concerned about giving boosters due to reduced vaccine efficacy. He says it wouldn't be for at least six months after your first shot, likely longer, that you'd need a booster. "We know that the durability is at least six months, likely a year," Fauci said.

CDC director Rochelle Walensky, MD, recently said health officials are preparing for the possibility that COVID vaccine-induced immunity could start to decrease, but that also may not happen. Speaking at a CNBC Healthy Returns Summit on May 11, Walensky said the vaccinated community doesn't need to panic about their COVID jab's effectiveness. "Right now, if you have two doses of the mRNA vaccines, you are protected," the CDC director said.

"What we're talking about is thinking ahead. What happens if in a year from now or 18 months from now your immunity wanes?" she added. "That's really our job is to hope for the best and plan for what might happen if we need further boosters in the future, the way we get flu vaccine boosters every year."

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Booster shots will be free to the public.

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The U.S. government made sure that the initial COVID vaccines were free of charge to everyone in the U.S. and they plan for that to also be true of the COVID booster shots, The Hill reports.

"We are planning, and I underscore the word planning, to have booster doses available if necessary for the American people," David Kessler, MD, chief science officer for the White House's COVID-19 Response Team, told the Senate Health Committee on May 11. "We do have the funds to purchase the next round and to assure if there are boosters that they are free just as the last round."

RELATED: Moderna CEO Says a Booster Shot Will Be Available by This Date.

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