How many booster shots will we need?

February 22, 2022, 6:15 PM UTC

The third vaccine shot — the so-called booster shot — seems to have worked for many in beating back the Omicron wave, as hospitalizations and severe cases have not climbed along with new cases.

So just how often will we have to get shots like this to preserve a semblance of normal life?

It’s a natural question as the coronavirus pandemic seems to be entering the endemic stage, and scientists have been working hard to answer it. 

At least four studies published in the last month focused on whether the immunity gained from either being infected with the virus or from three doses of vaccination are enough to produce a sustained and effective response to any coronavirus variant. 

“We’re starting to see now diminishing returns on the number of additional doses,” said John Wherry, director of the Institute for Immunology at the University of Pennsylvania, in an interview with The New York Times, who first reported on the studies. 

That may sound like a negative outlook, but the good news, these new studies suggest, is that receiving a third booster shot against COVID-19 may be enough to protect against serious illness or death for months, and potentially years. 

Fourth Dose Recommendation ‘Not Coming Anytime Soon’

The studies, the most recent of which was published last week, suggest that the diversity of antibodies produced by three shots of the mRNA vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech or by Moderna offer protection against any existing or new coronavirus variants that may emerge in the coming months. That protection has the potential to last for years, according to the study.

While it’s unclear if the studies have immediately impacted federal guidance, federal health officials recently said they are not planning to recommend a fourth coronavirus booster shot anytime soon, although people over 65 or who have an increased risk of severe illness could benefit from a fourth shot. 

“We simply don’t have enough data to know that it’s a good thing to do,” said Dr. Peter Marks in an interview with the New York Times last week. Marks heads the division of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that regulates vaccines.

Earlier this month, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s chief medical adviser, suggested that healthy individuals who are boosted may not need another COVID vaccine for years.

“It will depend on who you are,” Fauci said, “but if you are a normal, healthy 30-year-old person with no underlying conditions, you might need a booster only every four or five years.”

The news comes as many states and countries abroad have eased or lifted restrictions entirely. 

In the U.K., Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced in Parliament on Monday the country’s plans for “living with COVID,” which included ending all coronavirus-induced restrictions.

“Today is not the day we can declare victory over Covid, because this virus is not going away,” Johnson said. “But it is the day when all the efforts of the last two years finally enabled us to protect ourselves while restoring our liberties in full.”

States across the U.S. have eased restrictions and lifted mask mandates in recent weeks, as the impact of Omicron has lessened. New York and California took away indoor mask mandates for vaccinated individuals; New Jersey, Washington and New Mexico, among others, ended mask mandates in schools.

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