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Most of us are familiar with the recommendations for annual flu shots every fall and winter. You might be wondering, “Will I need a COVID-19 vaccine every year, too?”

Some doctors and scientists are speculating that yes, there will most likely be COVID-19 booster shots available each year as the virus changes and spreads more rapidly in the cooler months. While this is still just speculation, we’re here to provide some insight on how the vaccines work and why annual COVID-19 shots might be in our future.

What is a Booster Shot?

A booster shot is an extra dose of a vaccine needed periodically to “boost” your immune system. Vaccines are there to help protect us from certain diseases. Once you’ve had a vaccine, you might think you’re always safe from that disease. That’s not necessarily the case. Some diseases require more than one shot to build strong immunity. For other illnesses, your protection wears off over time, making a vaccine less effective. Booster shots help our bodies “remember” the illness so it knows to attack it before it causes harm.

Being Fully Vaccinated Goes a Long Way

There are several safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines now available, and millions of eligible people have already had theirs. To be fully vaccinated with an mRNA vaccine (Moderna or Pfizer), two doses 3 to 4 weeks apart are recommended for the best immunity.

“The first dose helps your body recognize the virus,” explains our health expert . “The second dose is the ‘booster shot’ that sets up your immune system to attack the virus, which is why many people feel more side effects the second time around. The vaccine and your immune system are doing their job.”

Studies have shown that these vaccines maintain efficacy for at least six months and may slowly wane over time — but continue to provide a very high level of protection against serious illness, hospitalization and death from the disease.

The single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine is shown to remain highly effective and as of now, there is no plan for a booster shot of this kind. More long-term studies are needed to determine if and when Johnson & Johnson recipients will need another shot.

Changing Viruses

It’s common for viruses to change, or mutate, which is what we’re seeing with the delta variant that currently makes up the majority of COVID-19 cases.

“Because the flu virus changes often, we recommend a flu shot every year to protect you from new strains of the same virus,” our health expert explains. “It’s looking like this may be in our future with COVID-19. It could be something that’s with us every year just like the seasonal flu. We would need yearly vaccines to protect us from the different strains as it changes.”

Each year, the flu shot is designed based on research and predictions about what will be spreading. It’s possible that scientists will need to approach the coronavirus the same way.

Getting a COVID-19 Vaccine

If an annual COVID-19 vaccine is a possibility in the future, we encourage you and your loved ones to get started now if you have yet to get your first dose. It’s our best defense against this ever-changing virus — and the best way to prevent more variants in the future.

For more information on COVID-19 and vaccinations, visit our Coronavirus Resource Hub.

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