RICHMOND, Va. -- As over half of Virginia’s adult population had received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, Virginia health officials said there was a possibility even fully vaccinated individuals may at some point need another round.
“I still think it's a very real possibility that we'll be looking at boosters at some time in this, within the next year or so,” said Dr. Melissa Viray, Deputy Director with the Richmond and Henrico Health Districts. “It’s just a matter of determining, does this, does this immunity last? You know, long term? Or does it wane over time?”
Earlier in the week, Dr. Anothony Fauci discussed the possibility of needing a booster shot.
Virginia’s Vaccination Coordinator Dr. Danny Avula said that was something Pfizer and Moderna had been working on for months.
"Because of the uncertainty around variants, right? We saw the emergence of the UK variant, South African variant, now we're watching the Indian variant,” said Dr. Avula. “And so they started to work on boosters that would incorporate some of the variants to provide additional protection.”
Dr. Avula said in the meantime, the existing vaccine was showing to be incredibly effective against variants.
He said another possible need for the booster would be waning immunity for vaccinated individuals, and added that more research was needed to determine how long immunity would last following your shot.
“If your immunity starts to drop, that's when you need a booster,” Dr. Avula said.
But Avula said immunity in those who’d received the vaccine six months ago was still very high.
“My guess would be that we probably won't need to look for boosters until 2022,” Dr. Avula said.
He anticipated there could be two indicators it’s time for a booster: an increase in the rate of breakthrough COVID cases, and studies by scientists indicating that immunity is waning.
Dr. Viray hoped it would be the latter.
“We are hoping that from the studies, from the trial follow-up, that we might have a bit of advanced warning that there might be something coming down the pipeline that we have to adjust for,” Dr. Viray said.
Both Dr. Viray and Dr. Avula said if a booster shot was needed, the process of getting it in Virginia, would look different than getting the initial COVID shot.
They said it would be less of an emergency response with mass vaccination sites and would be more like getting a typical booster or flu shot through a provider or pharmacy.
“We have a ton of infrastructure that we didn't have before in terms of supply chain and distribution, the pathway through providers and pharmacies,” Dr. Avula said. “As we're talking about the prospect of boosters, people still will have some degree of protection with waning immunity. So it's a very different context.”