Will I need a Covid Vaccine every year?

One of the burning new questions on COVID: will I need boosters?

COVID shots may become like flu shots where we need yearly boosters. Much remains to be seen regarding how long immunity lasts and if variants will affect the need to get yearly COVID shots.

As the COVID-19 pandemic begins to wane, many of us wonder what the future holds. Questions about the vaccine are foremost in many of our minds. If I get vaccinated, how long will the protection last? Will new variants emerge quickly or gradually? Will boosters be required, recommended, sufficient, effective? Or will new variants outsmart the vaccine and mean we need new vaccines? Is there a difference in effectiveness of different vaccines?

For so many of these questions, we simply do not know. The science is moving as fast as it can but with vaccines only in wide distribution for a little over 7 months, the long-term vision is largely unknown. Questions arise regarding natural immunity versus immunity conferred from vaccination and this too is an emerging field of inquiry. So far there are noticeable differences between protection conferred by different vaccines. With dozens of approved vaccines worldwide, according to the NY Times, Moderna and Pfizer, using mRNA technology, appear to be the most effective so far in providing lasting protection.

Many sources speculate that COVID-19 boosters will become a thing and so far, it looks like a yearly booster is probable. COVID-19, like many other viruses, is prone to mutations. The virus adapts as it encounters new environments, drug treatments and new hosts. Every year, scientists work together to formulate our best guess at what the dominant flu strains will be for the coming flu season. This is because flu viruses have been around for so long and there are so many different variants, that the vaccine must be different every year. COVID may become like that where scientists try to predict the most likely strains and formulate the COVID booster around that prediction. Or since COVID is still relatively novel, we may continue to use the same basic vaccines as a booster shot each year. 

Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former FDA commissioner, suggests that boosters may become more important when we start to enter fall which is traditionally the start of the cold and flu season. Booster shots may particularly be recommended for vulnerable populations such as the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions like hypertension, obesity and diabetes. At the time of writing, just over 60% of American adults have received at least 1 shot of a COVID vaccine and the prevalence of COVID spread in communities has decreased markedly. Viral transmission tends to wane in the summer months but the vaccine campaign has also likely contributed to the decreased incidence. 

Part of the uncertainty in the booster question comes from the exact number of people vaccinated as well as those who have naturally-acquired immunity (from getting COVID). The big factor here is that people with only one shot of the two-shot series are less protected from COVID and the new variants that may arise. Science is still investigating protection against variants for people with natural immunity as well. The hope is that the aggregate number of people protected may get us to the magical point of “herd immunity.” All of these factors are largely unknown as this will be the first cold/flu season since we developed and widely distributed the new COVID vaccines.

So, stay tuned, science is working on the basic question of: where do we go from here? What will COVID look like this fall, this winter, next year? Will a booster keep us protected and will it be recommended for everyone? The longer we can study individuals who have received the COVID vaccine and those who had COVID, the more we will know.

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Dr. Jessica Keating
Owner & Physician , Willow Clinic of Natural Medicine
Jessica Lodal Keating graduated with her doctorate in chiropractic medicine from National University of Health Sciences (NUHS) in Lombard, IL in December of 2016. She graduated summa cum laude and salutatorian of her class. She completed a primary care internship at the in-house clinic in the Salvation Army’s Adult Rehabilitation Center in downtown Chicago. There she was able to provide natural approaches to health and wellness to an under-served population. She also led efforts to solicit supplement donations from local doctors in order to provide these supplements to patients free of charge. During her time at NUHS, Dr. Keating also studied traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and became certified to perform acupuncture, moxabustion and fire cupping. She uses the wisdom of eastern medicine to complement her holistic approach to assessing each individual patient and treating the whole person. She participated in various other seminars and trainings over the course of her studies including MPI’s full-spine adjusting seminar and Apex’s Fundamentals of Functional Blood Chemistry. Dr. Keating also completed her Doctorate of Naturopathic medicine in 2018, graduating valedictorian and summa cum laude. Dr. Keating has worked in several natural primary care offices in the greater Chicagoland area. She is also a full-time naturopathic clinician at National University of Health Sciences. There she is able to help shape the next generation of naturopathic doctors. She has a home-call practice where she treats patients in the comfort of their own homes all around Chicagoland. Dr. Keating loves balancing private practice with teaching and clinical supervision. Dr. Jessica Keating received her bachelor’s degree in International Affairs from Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon before deciding to attend NUHS. After her undergrad degree, she grew frustrated with the field of political science and sought a new career path. Her own health had been dramatically improved through diet, yoga and herbal medicine. Because of these experiences, she decided to deepen her understanding of natural medicine by pursuing a higher degree. Dr. Keating remains committed to her own health journey on a personal and professional level. She aims to help others thrive and maintain optimal health by guiding them down the same path and educating her patients by empowering them to take their health into their own hands. Dr. Keating practices holistic, natural primary care. She treats GI conditions, autoimmune disorders, women’s health, sleep issues, heart disease, diabetes, anxiety, depression, back pain as well as working with patients on weight loss and general wellness promotion. She treats pediatric, adult and geriatric patients using diet, lifestyle modification, herbal medicine, physical medicine and acupuncture. In her free time, Dr. Keating loves reading, biking, cooking and playing with her cats. Dr. Keating also enjoys yoga, tennis, rollerblading, going to the movies and travelling with her husband. She has been to 28 different countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, and North and South America.
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