As of right now, you can protect yourself against COVID by either getting two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or getting one dose of Johnson&Johnson's vaccine. Being fully vaccinated offers you the highest level of protection against the novel coronavirus, but that immunity may not last as time goes on—which is why all three vaccine manufacturers are already working on booster shots. Experts are not quite sure how soon these follow-up vaccinations will be needed, however, and there is much debate on what the future of booster shots will look like. But Moderna's CEO recently opened up about what the company is focusing on with its booster, and he says there are four conditions that will determine the timing of your next COVID vaccine.
During the Forbes Health in Action Summit on June 8, Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said that the current vaccines produced by Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson&Johnson won't be enough to provide immunity against COVID forever, especially with virus variants continuing to spread across the globe. And that means boosters will likely be needed in the near future, but how soon for each individual will depend on four factors: when your immunity decreases, the emergence of new variants, how old you are, and any underlying conditions you may have.
"First, immunity wanes with time meaning rollover of antibodies you have in your body from the vaccine—all natural infection goes down over time," Bancel explained. "Two is you don't know which virus you're going to get infected with down the road … or even a new one that we don't know of yet. And then it depends on your age and medical condition."
Bancel explained during the Goldman Sachs 42nd Annual Global Healthcare Conference on June 8 that immunity is likely to decrease sooner for those who are older and have more underlying conditions because they received their initial vaccinations first in December and January, so some are "already coming in September at their 10-month clock," he said.
"I think for next fall, we as a community should rather be two months too early boosting than two months too late. And there is no way to precisely know when people should be boosted," Bancel explained. "So given we are all evolving with very uncertain data with a brand-new virus, I think being cautious and boosting early is going to be wise for that pandemic phase in the boosting phase of 2022 or late 2021."
According to Bancel, Moderna is currently working on a booster shot that targets both waning antibodies and new variants. The shot will reboot pre-existing antibodies developed by initial vaccinations or previous infection, as well as "provide new antibodies in your body that will bind specifically to those new mutations" found in emerging variants.
On top of that, Moderna is also developing a flu vaccine, Bancel said. The company is currently working on a booster for the seasonal flu that operates with a 90 to 95 percent efficacy, much higher than the flu vaccine's usual 40 to 60 percent efficacy rate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Moderna also hopes to eventually produce a vaccine that provides protection against both COVID and the flu with a single shot. "Our vision is to basically combine what we believe will be a high efficacy seasonal flu shot with variants of COVID boosters all combined into a single dose," Bancel said at the Goldman Sachs conference.