Probably not. Let me explain. I’m seeing lots of questions come up today saying immunity from the COVID-19 vaccines will only last so long – implying we will have to keep getting them. And, worry about the vaccines being ineffective against the newly identified strain in Europe. Lemme’ try to help.
✅ 𝟏. 𝐖𝐢𝐥𝐥 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐯𝐚𝐜𝐜𝐢𝐧𝐞𝐬 𝐨𝐧𝐥𝐲 𝐥𝐚𝐬𝐭 𝐟𝐨𝐫 𝟐 𝐦𝐨𝐧𝐭𝐡𝐬? The data we have for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines show that immunity lasts AT LEAST 2 months because that is the follow-up time we have so far. But, we can think about how vaccines work in general to answer this. Vaccines activate your immune system to get ready for an invader (like COVID-19) without exhausting your immune system (like we see when you’re fighting off a natural infection with COVID-19). Vaccines are also good at stimulating long-term responses (called B and T cells) against infections (see the picture). And, vaccines help teach your body how to build those long-lasting effects by targeting the spike protein of the virus. This is important since this is the same component that makes you sick – but, the key difference is the vaccine will target this protein to mass produce antibodies and B/T cells without actually making you sick – and, help your body “remember” how to fight the virus if it comes into contact with it months later. So, that brings me back to the COVID-19 vaccines. It looks like protection in terms of B and T cells lasts longer than antibodies even at 6-9 months post infection (see sources below). Check out the Picture – and, look at those B cells working! 👏👏
We also know that immunity from SARS last for years. We don’t know if COVID-19 will last that long, but this gives me hope that we won’t have to get jabbed every 2 months. Short answer to Question #1: We know immunity post vaccination lasts at LEAST 2 months because of the data. But, we expect it to last much longer given what is already known about other vaccines and diseases. Will vaccines work better (last longer) than natural infections? Given what we know about vaccines, I think the answer is a strong yes.
✅ 𝟐. 𝐒𝐡𝐨𝐮𝐥𝐝 𝐈 𝐛𝐞 𝐰𝐨𝐫𝐫𝐢𝐞𝐝 𝐚𝐛𝐨𝐮𝐭 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐧𝐞𝐰𝐥𝐲-𝐢𝐝𝐞𝐧𝐭𝐢𝐟𝐢𝐞𝐝 𝐬𝐭𝐫𝐚𝐢𝐧 𝐢𝐧 𝐄𝐮𝐫𝐨𝐩𝐞? 𝐀𝐧𝐝, 𝐰𝐢𝐥𝐥 𝐰𝐞 𝐡𝐚𝐯𝐞 𝐭𝐨 𝐤𝐞𝐞𝐩 𝐠𝐞𝐭𝐭𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐧𝐞𝐰 𝐯𝐚𝐜𝐜𝐢𝐧𝐞𝐬 𝐰𝐢𝐭𝐡 𝐞𝐚𝐜𝐡 𝐦𝐮𝐭𝐚𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧? Viruses, in general, mutate a lot. So, that’s not new with COVID-19. We have already seen a few mutations with COVID-19 since the pandemic started. The new one in Europe looks to be a bit more contagious, which could be a problem in terms of how many people get sick. But, unlikely to affect how well the vaccines work against it. Think of vaccines like a big blanket covering lots of mutations for the virus. What we need to watch out with any new mutation is the spike protein gene. The current vaccines produces antibodies against lots of regions in the spike protein (hence, the big blanket). (To give you an idea of how common mutations are – there are already 4,000 mutations in the spike protein genes for COVID-19). So, it’s unlikely a single change will render the COVID-19 vaccines ineffective. If any new mutation gets outside of the “blanket”, we may need a new vaccine.
Will we have to get yearly shots like the flu or every 10 years like tetanus? We don’t know yet. But, it looks very unlikely we will have to get one every 2 months or with every new mutation. Vaccines work much better than that! All the more reason to get the vaccines. (If you have other vaccine questions on myth-busters, side-effects, FDA, etc, see the Vaccine Series below.)
-Friendly neighbor epidemiologist
***I LOVED reading through the comments on yesterday’s post. I would encourage you to go read them if you need some joy in your life. Thank you for sharing those incredible stories!***
SOURCES: Here’s a good article on these topics: https://bgr.com/2020/11/18/coronavirus-immunity-years-antibodies-b-t-cells-la-jolla/
Great article on long-term immunity: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41577-020-00436-4
Long-term immunity studies: https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.11.15.383323v1