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Pfizer says a third vaccine shot may be necessary

Virus variants may reduce the effectiveness of the initial vaccination

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Photo (c) carmengabriela - Getty Images
Do you have both shots of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine? Good, but the company says you may need a third shot of the vaccine next year to keep you protected against COVID-19.

In recorded comments from earlier this month, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said it’s likely that people will need a “booster” shot within 12 months of being fully vaccinated against the virus. His comments were made public late Thursday.

“A likely scenario is that there will be likely a need for a third dose, somewhere between six and 12 months and then from there, there will be an annual revaccination, but all of that needs to be confirmed. And again, the variants will play a key role,” he said at a CVS Health event.

Pfizer isn’t the first vaccine-maker to suggest it may be necessary to fortify the vaccine to maintain a high level of immunity. Alex Gorsky, CEO at Johnson & Johnson, made a similar observation in February. He said an annual COVID-19 booster could be just as necessary as an annual flu shot.

Variants and ‘vaccine hesitancy’

These concerns are based on growing doubts about how long it will take the world to reach “herd immunity” against the virus. While the pace of vaccinations in the U.S. is moving very quickly, there is a significant number of Americans who have said they don’t plan to be vaccinated.

There are also easily transmitted variants of the virus spreading quickly around the globe. Current vaccines have been shown to be effective against the variants, but health experts say people may need a robust level of antibodies to maintain a high level of immunity.

Since the earliest vaccines began being administered in December, drug makers haven’t been able to measure how long the vaccines remain effective. This week, Moderna updated its efficacy data to show that its two-shot vaccine was effective for at least six months with little decline in effectiveness.

Biden administration leaning toward annual shot

Health officials in the Biden administration are also leaning toward the idea of an annual COVID-19 booster shot. Dr. David Kessler, the White House’s science officer in charge of the COVID-19 response, told lawmakers this week that the emergence of variants has made the outlook less certain.

“We don’t know everything at this moment,” Kessler told the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis. He noted that the virus variants make the vaccines “work harder,” which could make them less effective.

“So I think for planning purposes, planning purposes only, I think we should expect that we may have to boost,” he said.

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