Will booster shots be needed for the COVID-19 vaccine? Medical experts say they're not sure

Posted at 2:49 PM, Jun 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-08 16:25:44-04

NORFOLK, Va. -- Like other vaccines, the COVID-19 vaccine may be something people may need to get every year. But whether or not you'll need to is a question that is stumping medical professionals.

“I think the reality is we don't know for sure,” Dr. Danny Avula said.

Dr. Avula, the vaccine distribution coordinator with the Virginia Department of Health, joined a virtual roundtable to address this concern on Tuesday.

While he said he is not sure of the details of a COVID-19 booster vaccine, he pointed to how viruses can change strains - for example, the flu.

“That logic would lead us to think that,” Dr. Avula explained, “what with new mutations, new variations, we may need new variations of the vaccine itself."

COVID-19 has mutated over the last year, with researchers tracking the latest variant, called Delta, back to India. He hypothesized that the need for booster shots may happen sooner.

"If I had to guess, I would guess late winter or sometime in the spring of 2022,” Dr. Avula said. “We've heard some national experts say it might even be by the end of this year."

He added the state is prepared and can use its existing network of distribution. That includes providing boosters through doctors’ offices and pharmacies. Dr. Avula added the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would need to determine those booster vaccine guidelines.

"I think we, for boosters, will be able to rely on those existing pathways,” Dr. Avula said, “and not have to re-stand up large community mass vaccination centers."

So far, Dr. Avula said Virginia is just under the 70% vaccination goal set by President Joe Biden. He added 30% of children ages 12 through 15 and 47% of those ages 16 and 17 are vaccinated.

Related: Vaccine demand drops, but PGA tour incident serves as reminder of virus

"The work is going to continue this summer for us to really continue encouraging people - adults and children alike - about the importance of vaccination,” Dr. Avula said.

Click here for our full COVID vaccination guide.