(WHTM) — Pfizer and Moderna recently asked for approval for fourth doses of their COVID-19 vaccines for certain groups of people. While only one booster dose of the coronavirus vaccines has been recommended for most individuals in the U.S. so far, Midstate experts predict more will be coming.
“I personally think we will get some kind of a booster on some kind of a regular basis,” Dr. John Goldman, infectious disease specialist at UPMC, said.
“The most likely scenario is that…it will become like the flu in that every year we may need a booster,” Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health Chief of Infectious Diseases Dr. Joseph Kontra agreed.
While Pfizer and Moderna are only calling for one extra shot so far — and only for seniors in Pfizer’s case or adults in Moderna’s — even more may be needed in the future. Here’s what Goldman predicts will happen with COVID-19:
“I do expect that this is going to be a typical seasonal virus. If you look at the last two winters, around November we saw a big increase in cases, somewhere between early and mid-January we saw a peak, and then right after that we saw a pretty dramatic decline. I suspect that like every other respiratory virus, we’ll have a COVID season that starts in the fall and ends in the spring, although I think each successive COVID season is going to get more mild.”
Making sure that hospitalizations don’t increase as COVID-19 cases do is where the boosters come in. Immunity from the vaccines wanes over time, so the extra shots help maintain heightened levels of immunity against the virus, Goldman explained, which helps prevent individuals from experiencing severe coronavirus cases that could lead to hospitalization or death.
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Variants that can get around immunity from vaccines or previous infections are a concern, but Goldman says they may not cause as much of a problem as previous variants have, even if they are more contagious.
“What I envision is that the omicron virus is so infectious that it’s going to go through the remaining 20-30% of the population who have not been infected, and while it does that we’ll see a continued decline in cases. Simply put, there are fewer and fewer people who don’t have at least some immunity,” Goldman said.
So even if a new, more infectious variant pops up, it may not cause the intense spikes in cases and hospitalizations that have been experienced previously, he hypothesized, because most people will have some amount of immunity to protect them.
COVID-19 vaccine distribution was — as most will probably recall — quite slow after the first shots were approved, but Kontra says that production and distribution of the vaccines should be able to ramp up more quickly if more doses are approved.
“By the time it’s determined that we need a different vaccine or a booster of current vaccines, the companies will have already ramped up and will be ready for it,” Kontra said.
And much like what happens with the flu vaccines, as Kontra explained in a previous interview, COVID-19 vaccine producers may study future virus variants and prepare vaccines to target those specific strains. They may increase production leading up to “COVID season” so they are ready to distribute the shots when it’s time.