How long does protection from COVID-19 vaccines last?

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This picture taken on November 17, 2020 shows a syringe and a bottle reading “Vaccine Covid-19. (Photo by JOEL SAGET/AFP via Getty Images)

NEW YORK (AP) — How long does protection from COVID-19 vaccines last?

Experts don’t know yet because they’re still studying vaccinated people to see when protection might wear off. How well the vaccines work against emerging variants will also determine if, when and how often additional shots might be needed.

“We only have information for as long as the vaccines have been studied,” said Deborah Fuller, a vaccine researcher at the University of Washington. “We have to study the vaccinated population and start to see, at what point do people become vulnerable again to the virus?”

So far, Pfizer’s ongoing trial indicates the company’s two-dose vaccine remains highly effective for at least six months, and likely longer. People who got Moderna’s vaccine also still had notable levels of virus-fighting antibodies six months after the second required shot.

Antibodies also don’t tell the whole story. To fight off intruders like viruses, our immune systems also have another line of defense called B and T cells, some of which can hang around long after antibody levels dwindle. If they encounter the same virus in the future, those battle-tested cells could potentially spring into action more quickly.

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Even if they don’t prevent illness entirely, they could help blunt its severity. But exactly what role such “memory” cells might play with the coronavirus — and for how long — isn’t yet known.

While the current COVID-19 vaccines will likely last for at least about a year, they probably won’t offer lifelong protection, as with measles shots, said Dr. Kathleen Neuzil, a vaccine expert at the University of Maryland.

“It’s going to be somewhere in the middle of that very wide range,” she said.

Variants are another reason we might need an additional shot.

The current vaccines are designed to work against a particular spike protein on the coronavirus, said Mehul Suthar of the Emory Vaccine Center. If the virus mutates enough over time, vaccines might need to be updated to boost their effectiveness.

So far, the vaccines appear protective against the notable variants that have emerged, though somewhat less so on the one first detected in South Africa.

If it turns out we need another shot, a single dose could extend protection of the current shots or contain vaccination for one or more variants.

The need for follow-up shots will also depend partly on the success of the vaccination push globally, and tamping down transmission of the virus and emerging variants.

What else should I know about the vaccine?

There have been a lot of questions about the vaccine and what you can do before or after getting your shot. Here are a few frequently-asked-questions, answered:

Can I travel again after getting the vaccine?

If you have been fully vaccinated, the CDC says you can resume travel at “low risk” of getting or spreading COVID-19. Because of this, those who are fully vaccinated with either the Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson vaccine can travel safely within the U.S. without getting tested before or after travel – unless their destination requires it – and they do not need to self-quarantine.

How long will the vaccine protect me?

New research suggests the protection the Moderna vaccine gives against COVID-19 lasts for at least six months. Research on the Pfizer vaccine has found the same results. Both vaccines have only been available in the U.S. for six months.

Can I take medication before getting the vaccine?

The CDC recommends that people avoid pain medicine like Tylenol or Ibuprofen prior to getting the vaccine. The chance that over-the-counter medications will affect your immune response is unlikely, the Utah Department of Health says, but it is still not known for sure if they can impact the vaccine’s effectiveness.

Can I drink alcohol after receiving the vaccine?

While there is no firm answer, most health officials advise against drinking alcohol because of the symptoms that may occur after you get your dose.

Ultimately, while having a drink after getting either of your doses won’t make your recovery any harder, health officials agree that, instead of having alcohol, you should focus on staying hydrated and taking care of yourself in case of symptoms of the vaccine.

Why does the second COVID-19 vaccine dose have more side effects than the first?

It’s widely known that the second dose of the COVID-19 vaccines tend to come with more side effects than the first, including tiredness, headaches, chills, fever, nausea and muscle pain. With the first dose, your body begins building its initial immune response, including producing antibodies.

But with the second shot — a.k.a. the second exposure to the virus — “the big guns” of your immune system react.

How long should I wait to get the vaccine after having the virus?

According to Jenny Johnson, Public Information Officer with the Utah Department of Health, people who have had COVID-19 can safely be vaccinated.

The only “rule” about being vaccinated after being infected with the virus, she says, is that people must have completed the quarantine period and be symptom-free.

“There is no reason why someone should not get the vaccine after being infected,” Johnson says.

Can I donate blood after receiving the vaccine?

You can, but the American Red Cross says it is important to note which type of vaccine you got.

What should and shouldn’t I do after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine?

Do you continue to social distance and wear a mask? And when does immunity set in?

The Utah Department of Health provided ABC4 some guidelines.

I missed my second COVID-19 shot – now what?

The appointment is scheduled, and you missed getting it! What do you do now? Will you have to take two more shots? Probably not. Here’s what the Utah Department of Health says:

“You should get your second shot as close to the recommended 3-week or 1-month interval as possible. However, there is no maximum interval between the first and second doses for either vaccine. You should not get the second dose earlier than the recommended interval.”

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