Doctor Behind Pfizer-BioNTech Vaccine Says You'll Need a Shot This Often
You should expect to get the shot quite a few more times in life.
More than 87.5 million people in the U.S. are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as of Apr. 21. And while many of us are celebrating—or look forward to celebrating—the peace of mind and newfound freedoms that come with the shot, it's not a one-and-done (or two-and-done) situation. The probability is high that you'll need to get other COVID vaccinations in the future. Özlem Türeci, MD, the co-founder and chief medical officer (CMO) of BioNTech, which developed the U.S.'s first approved vaccine with Pfizer, is now sharing her thoughts on future COVID vaccinations. Keep reading to discover what Türeci had to say, and for more on the effectiveness of this vaccine, check out Pfizer's Vaccine Protects You for at Least This Long, Study Finds.
The doctor and BioNTech co-founder thinks the COVID shot will likely be given annually.
During an Apr. 21 interview on CNBC's The Exchange, host Kelly Evans asked Türeci about the frequency of future COVID vaccine shots. Due to anticipated decreased immunity over time, Türeci thinks people will need to receive the COVID jab annually—similar to flu shots.
"We see indications for this also in the induced, but also the natural immune response against SARS-CoV-2," Türeci said. "We see this waning of immune responses also in people who were just infected and therefore [it's] also expected with the vaccines."
During an Apr. 18 interview with CBS' Face the Nation, Anthony Fauci, MD, chief White House medical adviser, explained that there were two key indicators of when another COVID vaccine dose would be required, the first of which is watching antibodies. "If you get a level of immunity, which is measured generally by antibodies—it's a correlate of immunity—[and] when that level starts to fade down to a certain critical level, then it's a good indication you'll need a boost," he said.
And if you're wondering what other companies have to say, Moderna CEO Says This Is How Often You'll Need a COVID Vaccine.
New COVID strains could emerge that could also require booster shots.
Fauci said the second indicator that we'll need another COVID dose is "if you start to see breakthrough infections, either with the original virus or with a variant," he explained. "And if it's with the variant, even though a person's vaccinated, you might want to boost with a variant-specific boost as opposed to just a boost to the regular."
Though new variants have had many worried about the efficacy of vaccines developed to fight earlier strains of COVID, Türeci said she's not overly concerned with potential COVID mutations. "Mutations are in the nature of viruses. It's expected and natural that a virus which replicates, also mutates. So what we are seeing, variants which are occurring, that is not a surprise," Türeci told Evans.
But for now, the vaccines appear to protect people at least partially against the variants of concern. They're very effective against the B.1.1.7 variant from the U.K., which has become increasingly prevalent in the U.S., and partially protective agains the South African strain, B.1.351, and the Brazilian variant, P.1.
"At the moment, we don't have indications for virus escape" in vaccinated people, Türeci said. Regardless, she pointed out that adapting vaccines to concerning virus strains is "easy to do with mRNA vaccines," like those from Pfizer and Moderna. And if that's necessary, we may need additional booster shots sooner.
And if you're wondering about another expert's opinion, Dr. Fauci Says This Is When You'll Need Another COVID Shot.
The Moderna and Pfizer CEOs also agree COVID vaccines will probably be a yearly event.
Speaking at a virtual event by CVS Health on April 15, Albert Bourla, Pfizer's CEO, agreed with his colleague's assessment, noting the potential need for a yearly COVID booster shot. "There will be likely a need for a third dose, somewhere between six and 12 months," Bourla said. "And then from there, there will be an annual revaccination. But all of that needs to be confirmed."
Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel also told Forbes in March that the COVID vaccine will likely be needed on a yearly basis, like other medical routines. "You might end up with a thing like the flu where every year, every two years, you need a boost," Bancel said.
For more COVID vaccine news delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.
Dr. Fauci says ultimately, this will be a public health decision.
But despite what Pfizer, BioNTech, and Moderna execs say, Fauci told Meet the Press recently that the choice to begin administering another COVID vaccine would be made by public health officials. "It is going to be a public health decision. It's not going to be a decision that's going to be made by a pharmaceutical company," he said on Apr. 18. "The CDC will use their Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices the way they always do."
Fauci predicts that "by the time we get to the end of the summer and the beginning of the fall, we'll have a pretty good idea whether we definitely or not need to give people boosts and when we need to give it to them," he told ABC's This Week on Apr. 18. And for more advice from this expert, here are The 2 Places Dr. Fauci Still Won't Go After Vaccination.