WASHINGTON — Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, is advising Americans who have already had the coronavirus — or suspect that they’ve had it — to take the coming vaccines for it anyway.
In a recent interview, the longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said he doubts previously infected individuals will be restricted from accessing the vaccines, and that he has no reason to believe that taking the vaccine will be of harm to those who have already had COVID-19.
“I don’t think that should be a concern at all,” Fauci said, encouraging those Americans to take the vaccines once available.
Two manufacturers, Pfizer and Moderna, have completed their trials and found their vaccine candidates are roughly 95% effective at preventing illness. Pfizer has submitted a request for emergency use authorization of their vaccine from the Food and Drug Administration, which could be granted as early as mid-December.
“I believe they should” take the vaccine, Fauci said, addressing concerns among individuals who have already recovered from infection. “The final decision is going to be awaiting both FDA input, because we know that there were a certain percentage of the people who were in the original vaccine trial that had evidence they had been previously infected. So we need to see what the outcome of those individuals were.”
“I think it’s entirely conceivable that there would not be a restriction against those who have evidence that they’ve been infected,” he added.
While advanced clinical trials excluded volunteer applicants who said they had already had coronavirus, enrolled volunteers who were later found to have had the infection were allowed to remain in the trials, providing researchers and clinicians with valuable data on the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine within this group.
Scientists remain uncertain just how long individuals are naturally immune from reinfection with the coronavirus after recovering from the disease, much less on how long the vaccine will work for.
Vaccinologists expect the coronavirus vaccines will require annual shots or booster shots, similar to the flu vaccine, which Americans are advised to take every year.
But it is not clear whether the COVID-19 vaccines will last that long.
“I don’t think we have overwhelming confidence,” Fauci said. “We’re less than a year into the disease, so you can’t say it lasts more than a year — I mean, that would be impossible. That doesn’t make any sense because no one that we know of that we’re following has been infected more than a year.”
But data from similar coronaviruses may provide a guide, Fauci added. The SARS outbreak in 2002, for example, showed that individuals were naturally immune from reinfection for over a year, but that immunity eventually tapered.
“So the bottom line is we don’t know right now how long it lasts,” Fauci said, speaking of the length of immunity a vaccine will provide. “But it likely would last for a full year’s cycle.”
“From what we know of the duration thus far of immunity, I would be surprised if it turns out to be a 20-year duration, but I would also be surprised if it was less than a year,” he continued. “I think it would probably be more than a year.”