The Only Reason You Might Not Need a COVID Booster Shot, Doctors Say
This may keep you from needing another dose in the near future.
The current COVID vaccines offer you major protection from the novel coronavirus, but, as we know from our annual flu shots, that immunity likely won't last forever. Since antibodies wane over time and viruses mutate, most experts agree that you'll need more COVID vaccine in your system as time goes on, even if you've already been fully vaccinated with two doses from Pfizer or Moderna or one dose from Johnson & Johnson. And while all three vaccine manufacturers are already working on follow-up shots, there might be a certain situation in which you don't need a COVID booster in the near future. New research has some experts saying that people who have been both infected with the virus and vaccinated against COVID may not need a booster shot anytime soon.
Two recent studies have concluded that immunity against COVID could last for years in people who have both been infected with the disease and received the vaccine. One of the studies, published on May 24 in the journal Nature, found that memory B cells may exist in the bone marrow of those previously infected and create antibodies against the virus when needed. And the other, which has not yet been peer reviewed but was posted earlier this month on the pre-print site BioRxiv, found that memory B cells may persist for years after initial infection.
Scott Hensley, PhD, an immunologist at the University of Pennsylvania, told The New York Times that these two studies are "consistent with the growing body of literature that suggests that immunity elicited by infection and vaccination for SARS-CoV-2 appears to be long-lived." Therefore, this latest research indicates that most people who have recovered from COVID and were later vaccinated may not actually end up needing booster shots.
"The elevated immune response [in those previously infected] is due to the antibodies and memory B cells developed in the body as it fights infection, some of which remain after recovery to react better and neutralize the virus," Dennis Hancock, CEO of biotech firm Mountain Valley MD, explained to Best Life. "Previous infections caused a smarter response by the body to the vaccine that increased immunity."
On the other hand, Michel Nussenzweig, MD, an immunologist at Rockefeller University in New York who led the study published on BioRxiv, told The Times that vaccinated individuals who haven't been previously infected will most likely eventually need a booster shot. The immunity produced after immunization is likely organized differently than that from natural infection, Nussenzweig explained.
Vaccinated people who have been previously infected with COVID may also still need a booster shot in some cases, however. According to Hancock, if a booster vaccine is created specifically to target variants of the virus and not just for antibody decline, then previously infected individuals would likely still benefit from getting that booster shot.
"Boosters may be needed for the variant viruses… which would be a valid concern for the entire population, not just the previously uninfected," Hancock explained. And it appears that could very well be the case. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) just released a report on fully vaccinated individuals who got COVID after vaccination and found that 64 percent of breakthrough infections in recent months were the result of COVID variants of concern, most commonly the U.K. variant (B.1.1.7.).
Joan Kapusnik-Uner, PharmD, the vice president of clinical content at First Databank, Inc., told Best Life that further research will likely be needed to determine who exactly will need booster shots and when, including insight into which people are at the highest risk of breakthrough infections and which variants may arise that are more resistant to the immunity produced by current COVID vaccinations.
"Booster vaccinations in the future may not be required for everyone, especially if you have a healthy immune system and your potential risk of exposure to variant strains or mutants is low," Kapusnik-Uner said.