ATLANTA - You braved the needle. Now, how long with the COVID-19 vaccine protect you?
In a new study published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers found the Moderna vaccine triggers protective antibodies that persist for at least 6 months after the second dose of the vaccine.
Another recent study found the Pfizer vaccine also protects for 6 months from the final dose.
Epidemiologist Dr. Amber Schmidtke, Ph.D., says it is important not to get stuck on the "six-month" number.
"I think it's important to pay attention to what these studies are telling us," Schmidtke says.
"I think people hear '6 months,' and they're thinking, 'Oh, it only last 6 months!" No, what they're saying is that it lasts for at least 6 months. So, the wording here really matters."
Schmidtke says when you get vaccinated against a virus like the coronavirus, your immune cells learn to recognize and remember the virus, so they can fight it off if you are exposed to COVID again.
"So, it really just depends on how long the memory cells that are generated during your immune response to the vaccination will last," she says. "The good news is, with as many cases as we have in the community right now, your immune system seems to get a lot of reminders about COVID-19, because it's being exposed, depending on how many risks you are or are not taking."
Infection with the virus also generates protective antibodies that could last 6 to 8 months, possibly longer, studies have found.
But, Schmidtke says getting vaccinated is the easier way to go.
"When you're having to weigh the benefits and risk of either getting natural protection through an infection or getting it from a vaccine, man, there is just no comparison between being on the couch for a day or so and feeling you to being in an ICU or having long-haul COVID," Schmidtke says. "To me, there's really no comparison, and I'm really grateful we have not one, but 3 safe and effective vaccines right now."
Researchers are now studying vaccine durability beyond six months.
They are also looking at whether a booster dose could extend the protection the vaccines provide against the older circulating strains and the emerging variants of the virus.
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