We’ve learned a lot about the COVID vaccines in a short amount of time. We know, for example, that all three vaccines are highly efficacious and that they each have a stellar track record of protecting against hospitalization and death. And now, months into data collection, we have another crucial piece of information: how long the vaccine will last. According to White House COVID advisor Anthony Fauci, MD, you can expect to be protected by the current vaccines for at least six months.
If six months doesn’t sound like much, don’t panic: Fauci says there’s a very good chance the vaccines will last quite a bit longer than that. As he explained in a March 3 interview with Wired, researchers have collected six months’ worth of data and confirmed that the vaccines continue to offer robust protection for at least that length of time. The CDC and the vaccine makers themselves will continue to monitor antibody levels at regular intervals, until they find signs that the protection levels are waning.
“What you do is you follow people for a period of time, you measure the level of antibodies, and you observe if there’s breakthrough infections,” Fauci explained. “If it looks like after a year and a half, the antibody levels go down and people start to get breakthrough infections, then we know that after a year and a half, we probably have to give them a boost,” he said.
Currently, Fauci says we know that antibody levels should still be going strong after six months “and maybe much longer” following the second doses of Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines. And while it may be discomfiting not to know exactly how long you’ll be protected, think of it this way: the longer you have to wait for an answer, the better the results.
Numbers may be declining, but Fauci explains that this is no time to rest on our laurels. “Let’s not declare victory yet, right? You don’t want the decline that we’re seeing to plateau at an unreasonably high level,” he told Wired.
Fauci argued that the key to tamping down new variants is to continue the aggressive practice of social safety measures that have thus far been working in our favor. “There is a tenet in biology that viruses do not mutate unless you give them the opportunity to replicate,” he said. “The easiest way to prevent the spread in the community is to vaccinate as many people as possible at the same time that you stick to the public health measures of wearing masks, of avoiding close contact, of avoiding congregate settings.”
3. Vaccines Have Been Key to Ending Previous Disease Outbreaks
While this may be the first pandemic individuals under 100 have lived through, COVID is hardly the first public health crisis that will be solved with vaccines. “Throughout our history, we’ve been confronted with diseases that have threatened our health, life, and even our survival. Smallpox, measles, polio—every one of them has been conquered by vaccines,” Fauci said.
“We are fortunate that already we have three highly efficacious vaccines that have a very good safety profile. Soon, we will have even more,” he added. Now, the task at hand is to get vaccines into arms “in a very organized, quick, and efficient manner,” Fauci says.
2. We Need to Stick to the Two-Dose Schedule
Asked whether or not it would be beneficial to vaccinate more Americans with their initial vaccine doses and administer their second doses at a later time, Fauci was steadfast in his belief that, with few exceptions, we need to stick to the original two-dose schedule at the recommended 21 or 28 days apart.
“We don’t know what the durability of a single dose is,” Fauci cautioned. “And it is conceivable if all you do is give the first dose to people and significantly delay the administration of the second dose, you could have a diminution of efficacy,” he warned. Fauci added that the second vaccine dose increases the level of antibodies “by at least tenfold,” which could explain the low levels of hospitalization and deaths in vaccinated individuals—even those who have been exposed to more dangerous variants.
1. It’s Time to Depoliticize Public Health
Finally, Fauci shared what he felt he’s “learned about the American people” during the first year of the pandemic—and while it may be accurate, it’s not particularly flattering. “I think we are living currently in a very, very divisive society. Almost split right down the middle…It’s divisiveness to the extreme, where even public health measures take on a political overtone, where wearing a mask or not wearing a mask is a reflection of what your political leanings are. That should not be,” he said.
“Public health should be independent of political differences. But we didn’t see that with the COVID-19 outbreak. We’re all in this together, and we’ve all got to be pulling together. But apparently that doesn’t always happen,” Fauci said.