Here's Why You Might Need a Third COVID Vaccine, Pfizer CEO Says

Your first two shots to protect against COVID may not be enough, according to the head of Pfizer.

The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID vaccine has shown remarkable results thus far, with a Dec. 2020 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine suggesting it's 94.6 percent effective at preventing a symptomatic COVID infection after two doses. However, in a new interview with NBC News, Pfizer's CEO is now saying that a third shot may be necessary to achieve full protection. Read on to discover why you might need to get a third shot, and for more vaccination news, check out This Other Vaccine Could Already Be Protecting You From COVID, Study Says.

You may need a third booster shot to address emerging mutations.

Closeup of vials of vaccine
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During an interview with NBC News's Lester Holt, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla explained that by adding an additional third booster shot to the recommended two-dose vaccine, individuals will have greater protection against the highly infectious COVID variants that have recently been identified. "We believe that the third dose will raise the antibody response 10- to 20- fold," said Bourla.

Pfizer Chief Scientific Officer Mikael Dolsten, MD, told Reuters recently, "The rate of mutations in the current virus is higher than expected. It's a reasonable probability that we would end up with regular boosts."

A preprint of a January study by BioNTech, which worked with Pfizer to create the vaccine, found that the doses are effective against the B.1.1.7. variant from the U.K., which is projected to become the dominant strain in the U.S. in March. But that may not be true with all mutations of the virus. For example, a February report from Pfizer and BioNTech, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, found that the South African variant may reduce protective antibodies elicited by the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine by approximately two-thirds.

To prevent future widespread coronavirus infections, Pfizer plans to test the efficacy of modified versions of the company's existing vaccine against mutations, starting with the South African variant. And if you want to know more about the latest vaccine, These Are the Side Effects of the New Johnson & Johnson Vaccine, FDA Says.

These booster shots will likely become available quicker than the initial vaccine.

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Though it may have taken the better part of a year for the COVID vaccine to become available in the U.S., developing future boosters to address coronavirus mutants shouldn't take quite as long. On Feb. 22, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that vaccine companies could potentially file for Emergency Use Authorizations (EUAs) for future coronavirus vaccines instead of conducting additional large-scale clinical trials. "In the case of investigational vaccines being developed for the prevention of COVID-19, any assessment regarding an EUA will be made on a case by case basis," the FDA statement read. And for more vaccine advice from the nation's top agencies, check out The CDC Says Don't Do This Within 2 Weeks of Your COVID Vaccine.

The third shot will likely be the same brand as the first one or two you get.

General practitioner wearing protective uniform giving injection with coronavirus vaccine to senior woman
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Pfizer is currently studying the efficacy of administering a third shot, and in a statement this week, Moderna said the company is also "evaluating booster doses of vaccine to increase neutralizing immunity against the variants of concern," including the South African variant. (Additionally, the single-dose vaccine from Johnson & Johnson, which should be approved for emergency use by the FDA this week, has proven to be quite effective in clinical trials in South Africa itself, where it was 82 percent against severe disease.) As is the case with your first and second doses, your booster will likely be from the same company as your initial vaccinations.

While the precise timeframe for the most effective administration of the third shot has not yet been definitively determined, the time elapsed between participants' first shot and their booster in the latest Pfizer trials is six months to a year, NBC News reports. And for the latest COVID news delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

You may need to get a new COVID vaccine every year.

Man receives the COVID vaccine in a doctor's office at the hospital.
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While getting your initial COVID vaccinations—whether it's one, two, or maybe now even three—is a good first step toward getting the pandemic under control, Bourla explained that it likely won't be a one-and-done deal. "Every year, you need to go to get your flu vaccine. It's going to be the same with COVID," said Bourla. And if you're still looking for an appointment, check out You'll Be Able to Get Vaccinated at Any Walgreens by This Date.

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