Will Annual COVID-19 Boosters Become the New Norm?

As the covid-19 vaccines keep rolling all around the world, scientists are worried about future mutations. No one knows for how long can the vaccine protect against the coronavirus since it is still yielding more infectious, deadly variants. Therefore, scientists believe in the urgency of initiating vaccine boosters to stay ahead of the ever-evolving virus. Instead of gaining full immunity from only two vaccines, the world might need routine boosters to become our new norm as a method of keeping ahead of Covid-19.

A vaccine booster

According to Susan R. Bailey, an allergist, clinical immunologist, and president of the American Medical Association, a booster shot is mainly a “repeat dose of a vaccine that you’ve already received to literally boost your immunity”. The repeated exposure will provide the immune system with a strong virus-fighting memory. Usually, a second or a third encounter with a molecule prompting antibody production, such as Covid-19, initiates a longer and better immune response.

For example, vaccines like the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna require a booster, also known as the second shot. While the first shot aids in initiating an immune response, the second dose plays the role of a booster, strengthening the body’s immunity against the virus. However, in February, Pfizer-BioNTech started investigating the possibility of a third dose, in addition to its initial 2-dose plan. “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 annual revaccination, but all of that needs to be confirmed. And again, the variants will play a key role,” concluded Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla.

“It is extremely important to suppress the pool of people that can be susceptible to the virus,” added Bourla.

Common misconception

Though COVID-19 vaccines are still relatively new with scientists advocating for their effectiveness for at least six months, people are having their doubts. “Unfortunately, many people have misunderstood that to mean that it lasts only six months,” stated Bailey, even though, “all that information means is that we know that it lasts six months, and we expect it to last longer.” To specifically determine the duration of the vaccine-provoked immunity, scientists will need more time and trials.

However, according to Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease physician and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security, it is still not clear whether or not will each type of vaccination require a booster. For example, to maintain effectiveness, patients are required to receive a tetanus vaccine booster every 10 years. Yet, scientists are now questioning the necessity of these additional doses.

A new norm

Since the virus will mutate to ensure its survival, routine or additional booster “will most likely be a new reality” says Daniel Lucey, an infectious disease specialist.

“It’s a constant series of battles and multi-year war between SARS-CoV-2, its variants, and our vaccines, which are from 2019. We’re behind. The virus doesn’t sleep, but we do,” stated Lucey. On the other hand, even though many scientists agree about the seismicity of boosters, many are skeptical when it comes to the duration between each booster shot.

The ethical issues of vaccine boosters

Requiring people to routinely obtain a booster might not be easy. However, even though some countries, like the US, have still not mandated COVID-19 vaccines, the world is starting to set such regulations. Boarding airplanes, entering foreign countries, and even attending universities are turning into some kind of a privilege for the vaccinated. Many people around the world aren’t even getting the chance to vaccinate the first shot.

Vaccine proof will turn into a necessity to resume a normal life, and this will most probably also apply to booster shots. Thus, these requirements will exacerbate existing social, economic, and health inequities. Therefore, scientists are urging a fair and free distribution of vaccine boosters.

As for people who don’t want to get vaccinated because of personal choices, “the law is not on their side,” Brown stated, Teneille Brown, a professor of law and adjunct professor of internal medicine. Of course, Exemptions will be available for religious and medical reasons per law requirements.

“If you want to drive, you have to get a license, insurance, etc.,” Brown says. “It isn’t a one-time thing. The privilege of driving creates ongoing obligations to get your car registered, to get your emissions tested, and to continue to comply with changing traffic laws. You might disagree with these laws … but that doesn’t give you permission to ignore them at your choosing.”


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