Will the COVID vaccine be redistributed annually, like the flu shot?

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Anyone who was hoping the coronavirus vaccines would end COVID-19 forever is set to be disappointed. While it remains unclear with precisely what frequency we will need revaccination, people will likely need to receive an annual, or close to annual, COVID vaccine, similar to the flu shot.

COVID-19 does not mutate as frequently as the flu, meaning that an annual vaccination appointment might not be necessary. Experts expect the first two doses of vaccine to last “a few years, hopefully even longer” Dr. John Torres, an emergency room physician, told MSNBC

Far more research is needed before experts can determine with what frequency people will need to receive the COVID-19 vaccine and if it will need to be on an annual basis. They have long anticipated, however, that it would be difficult to create a longstanding immunity to the virus.

“I suspect we may need to have relatively regular vaccinations against coronaviruses going into the future,” Sir John Bell, a professor of medicine at Oxford University, told Meet the Press in May 2020. “That, of course, remains to be seen, but that’s my bet at the moment.”

On Feb. 9, Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky agreed with that assessment, telling CNBC that people might need to get vaccinated annually.

“Unfortunately, as [the virus] spreads it can also mutate,” Gorsky said. “Every time it mutates, it’s almost like another click of the dial so to speak where we can see another variant, another mutation that can have an impact on its ability to fend off antibodies or to have a different kind of response not only to a therapeutic but also to a vaccine.”

Conflicting data shows immunity after infection lasting mere months in some cases, and potentially years in others. Following a vaccine, this immunity will likely last significantly longer but not indefinitely.

Both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines require two separate doses to reach full efficacy. The second dose does not count as a “seasonal shot” similar to an annual, or semi-annual, vaccine. It is, instead, the second half of the initial vaccine (for what it’s worth, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be only one dose). Even after receiving the second dose of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, experts are urging people to continue social distancing measures, along with mask-wearing and diligent hand washing. 

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Sources: MSNBC, Meet the Press, Web MD, CNET

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