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How long does COVID-19 vaccine immunity last? Scientists say the answer is in the numbers

Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson are still monitoring clinical trial participants. That's how they figure out how long the shots will be protective.

TAMPA, Fla — As new data continues to come out, doctors are learning more and more about COVID-19 vaccines.

Pfizer is still doing clinical trials and just released new data saying its two-dose vaccine remains 91 percent effective for at least six months.

"I think it's actually pretty good data," USF Public Health Epidemiologist Dr. Jill Roberts said.

Scientists agree Pfizer's data is impressive, but they say headlines about the vaccine's immunity can be misleading. 

"It's easy for people to get caught up on the number six, but this is just the endpoint that we're at right now. Then we've got to go out further, and then we've got to do that with other vaccines," Roberts said.

Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson are still monitoring clinical trial participants. That's how they figure out how long the shots will be protective.

"When they say at least six months, it really is at least six months. It's not up till six months, it means at least six months. We're pretty confident that is going to be longer, but we don't know how much longer," USF Public Health Virologist Dr. Michael Teng said. 

He says all three vaccines were built to have long-lasting immunity, but similar to the flu shot, that immunity won't last forever.

"I think the immunity that we're getting, at least from these vaccines that we have, is pretty strong. So, if we do need boosters, it's going to be down the line," Teng said.

Scientists say the probability a COVID-19 booster shot will be needed is high.

"Maybe not necessarily because immunity wanes, but because the strain mutates. A use of a booster shot can actually address either of those," Roberts said.

Regardless of the need for another shot, doctors still suggest people get vaccinated now.

"We're seeing an uptick in cases right now, so it's super important to be vaccinated right now. So you can protect yourself from the increased rates of transmission that are out there, and so you can be part of the solution and not the problem," Teng said.

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