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Covid booster shot could be needed after nine to 12 months, White House says

Guardian staff and agencies
·3-min read
<span>Photograph: Anda Chu/AP</span>
Photograph: Anda Chu/AP

The US is preparing for the possibility that a booster shot will be needed between nine and 12 months after people are initially vaccinated against Covid-19, a White House official said on Thursday.

While the duration of immunity after vaccination is being studied, booster vaccines could be needed, David Kessler, the chief science officer on Joe Biden’s Covid-19 response taskforce, told a congressional committee meeting.

“We are studying the durability of the antibody response. So I think for planning purposes, planning purposes only, I think we should expect that we may have to boost,” Kessler said.

“The current thinking is those who are more vulnerable will have to go first,” he said.

Related: Johnson & Johnson vaccine use will remain paused in US amid evaluation

The CEO of Pfizer, Albert Bourla, has also said it is “likely” that people will need a third coronavirus vaccine dose within a year, with annual revaccinations also a possibility.

“We need to see what would be the sequence, and for how often we need to do that, that remains to be seen,” Bourla told a CNBC reporter during an event with CVS Health. The CEO’s comments were released on Thursday, but they were filmed two weeks ago.

Bourla added: “A likely scenario is that there will be likely a need for a third dose, somewhere between six and 12 months and then from there, there will be an annual revaccination, but all of that needs to be confirmed. And again, the variants will play a key role.”

Initial data has shown that vaccines from Moderna and partners Pfizer and BioNTech SE retain most of their effectiveness for at least six months, though for how much longer has not been determined.

Even if that protection lasts far longer than six months, experts have said that rapidly spreading variants of the coronavirus and others that may emerge could lead to the need for regular booster shots similar to annual flu shots.

The US is also tracking infections in people who have been fully vaccinated, Rochelle Walensky, the director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told the House subcommittee hearing.

Nearly 200m coronavirus vaccine doses have been distributed so far in the US, and about 38% of the American population has received at least one shot.

Of 77 million people vaccinated in the US, there have been 5,800 such breakthrough infections, Walensky said, including 396 people who required hospitalization and 74 who died.

Walensky said some of these infections have occurred because the vaccinated person did not mount a strong immune response. But the concern is that in some cases, they are occurring in people infected by more contagious virus variants.

This month, Pfizer and BioNTech said their vaccine was about 91% effective in preventing Covid-19, citing updated trial data that included more than 12,000 people fully inoculated for at least six months.