A new study published in the scientific journal Nature suggests that mRNA vaccines, such as those made by Pfizer and Moderna, may provide long-term protection from COVID-19.
Since vaccinations against the coronavirus first became available in December, questions have loomed about how long they would provide protection from the potentially deadly disease.
Specifically, the focus has been on mRNA vaccines. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, mRNA vaccines differ from traditional vaccines that put a weakened or inactivated germ into our bodies in order to trigger an immune response. mRNA vaccines “teach our cells how to make a protein — or even just a piece of a protein — that triggers an immune response inside our bodies. That immune response, which produces antibodies, is what protects us from getting infected if the real virus enters our bodies.”
While the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines use this mRNA technology, the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine uses a more traditional virus-based technology.
As recently as early June, both Pfizer and Moderna speculated that people would likely require yearly booster shots, similar to the flu vaccine. However, this new study suggests that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines could provide immunity for years.
“Data from this study in Nature is compelling. It gives us a look into the longevity of the mRNA vaccines currently available for COVID-19,” said Dr. Rajiv Bahl, an emergency medical physician. “These vaccines help create memory cells which can duplicate in lymph nodes — or the infection protection centers of the body. This can help provide for long-term surveillance and protection against the forms of the virus it was created for.”
Despite these findings, it is still not known whether booster shots will be needed. A lot depends on the coronavirus itself and how much it could mutate and create new variations, like what happened with the more infectious delta variant, which is now prompting concern among health leaders.
“If no other variant strains develop people may not need booster doses in the future. However, like influenza (the flu), booster doses are needed every year because the virus has the ability to mutate and change,” Bahl said.
The World Health Organization is now issuing guidance for people who are vaccinated to wear masks again out of concern that those individuals could still carry the virus and transmit it to others, even though they are protected from infection.
“With the newness of COVID-19 in our health ecosystem, we have the ability to prevent new strains from appearing, however, that requires a global slowing of virus transmission as a whole,” Bahl said.