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Right now, most Americans are still awaiting their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Mounting research has shown that both approved vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer—and one from Johnson&Johnson awaiting approval—are highly effective at protecting against the disease. But receiving a COVID vaccine this year may not offer the kind of protection that keeps you safe forever, according to Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla. He recently told NBC News that the shots may need to become a regular event. Read on to see what the executive had to say about the future vaccine schedule, and for more on what other immunizations might already be doing for you, check out This Other Vaccine Could Already Be Protecting You From COVID, Study Says.
The Pfizer CEO says you'll need to get your COVID shot every year.
In an interview with NBC News' Lester Holt, Bourla discussed the ongoing trials for a potential third dose of the Pfizer vaccine to make it more effective against mutated versions of the virus, including the highly transmissible South African variant. He pointed out that such mutations are the nature of viruses and they're the reason why annual shots are required.
"Every year, you need to go to get your flu vaccine," Bourla said. "It's going to be the same with COVID. In a year, you will have to go and get your annual shot for COVID to be protected." And for more vaccine news, check out The CDC Says Don’t Do This Within 2 Weeks of Your COVID Vaccine.
Other experts say the optimal timeframe between COVID shots is still being studied.
Still, other experts point out that the actual length of time between shots is to be determined. "You need to cast a wide net to find Goldilocks," John Grabenstein, PhD, a former executive director of medical affairs for vaccines at Merck and a former Department of Defense immunologist, told NBC News. "You want to look at shorter intervals, you want to look at longer intervals, to determine when is the best time, if needed, to re-vaccinate."
Right now, the Pfizer booster shot trials are testing patients whose first dose was six months to a year ago. And for more on new guidelines for once you've gotten your shots, check out The CDC Says You Don't Have to Do This Anymore Once You're Vaccinated.
Moderna's CEO has also said COVID is likely here to stay.
But Bourla is not alone in saying that SARS-CoV-2 will become an annual foe. In January, CNBC reported that during a panel discussion at the JPMorgan Healthcare Conference, Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel predicted what he believed the future of COVID would be.
"SARS-CoV-2 is not going away," Bancel said, meaning that the virus would become "endemic" and circulate permanently at low levels while rarely causing severe illness. "We are going to live with this virus, we think, forever." And for more COVID news sent right to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.
Recent studies seem to uphold this theory.
To help predict the trajectory of COVID, a study published in Science in January created a model that found that "once the endemic phase is reached and primary exposure is in childhood, CoV-2 may be no more virulent than the common cold." Future interactions with the virus would largely be nowhere near the serious threat that it poses now. Researchers are confident that it will eventually be mostly harmless, barring an emergent strain that causes severe disease in children.
COVID-19 is currently wreaking so much havoc because very few people have immunity to the foreign pathogen, but it will likely shift to being an endemic illness once most people are vaccinated or exposed to the virus. And for more on the future of the virus, check out This Is When the COVID Pandemic Will Be Completely Over, Experts Say.