Although pandemic restrictions are being relaxed across the country due to a drop in Covid cases, experts believe the virus will be around for a long time.
That means you’ll probably need another Covid booster shot in the future. The big question is, when will it happen?
There have been conflicting reports on the subject. The Food and Drug Administration is reviewing preliminary data that could lead to the approval of a new booster dose this fall — possibly as the first in a series of annual Covid vaccinations, similar to flu shots.
Meanwhile, recent research suggests that most people who have already been boosted may not require another dose for months, if not years. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this represents approximately 44 percent of all fully vaccinated people in the United States.
When all of these factors are considered together, it’s easy to become perplexed about the timeline. That’s why some medical experts are urging patience, claiming that it’s simply too early to tell.
Here’s why, and what information they’re looking for:
According to Ali Ellebedy, an immunologist and associate professor at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, the country’s vaccines and boosters from Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer-BioNTech, and Moderna — which were designed to combat the original SARS-CoV-2 strain — are currently doing a “great job” protecting against severe disease.
He claims that their defenses are effective even against variants such as omicron and delta.
According to Dr. Dan Barouch, director of the Center for Virology and Vaccine Research at Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, this is largely due to the T cells that vaccines help your body generate. T cells are specific white blood cells that activate when you become infected with a virus, assisting in the targeting and destruction of infected cells to lessen the severity of your physical symptoms.
According to Barouch, who recently led a study on the effect of T cells on omicron, T cells are likely just as important as antibodies in protecting people against severe disease — and they last much longer.
It’s unclear how long Covid-related T cells will survive, but people whose immune systems developed T cells to fight the SARS coronavirus in the early 2000s still had those T cells in their blood at least 17 years later, according to researchers.
In a clinical trial published on January 17, Israel’s Sheba Medical Center discovered that while a second booster shot increases antibody levels marginally, it is insufficient to make a significant dent against omicron — implying that a new shot would have limited short-term benefits.
Instead, Ellebedy believes that the need for a booster shot will be determined by a few key factors in the coming months, such as how well the current boosters hold up in high-risk populations over time, and whether any dangerous Covid variants emerge on omicron’s heels.
According to Barouch, a “annual booster” is preferable to boosting every three to six months, with shorter intervals likely for the elderly and immunocompromised.
Ellebedy speculates that the next booster could be an omicron-specific vaccine, which Pfizer and Moderna have been developing for several months.
This “could be beneficial in the long run,” he says, “by engaging new immune cells that the original vaccine did not bring into play.” “Immunologically, this is referred to as ‘broadening’ of our immune armamentarium.” In theory, this broadening would be especially beneficial if a new variant of concern descended from omicron emerges.”
The number of new daily Covid cases has dropped dramatically since reaching a record high of over one million on January 3. According to Johns Hopkins University data, the seven-day average of daily new cases in the United States was 57,825 as of Wednesday.
As a result, some people have decided that their booster shot is no longer necessary. According to new CDC data, fewer people have received vaccinations in recent weeks: On Feb. 19, the seven-day average for booster shots was around 149,000, down from one million in early December.
However, the booster remains critical, according to Hannah Newman, director of infection prevention at New York City’s Lenox Hill Hospital. She encourages those who haven’t yet gotten boosted to do so as soon as possible.