Why the covid 19 vaccine is refreshed more quickly than other vaccines

It lacks context. That the Covid-19 vaccine should be boostered so early does not mean it is worse than other vaccines.

30. November 2021

A current claim about the alleged duration of the effect of vaccinations lacks context (Photo: Picture Alliance / Zoonar / Axel Bueckert)

A vaccination against Covid-19 lasts only three to six months, vaccinations against other diseases at least two years or lifelong.

Lack of context. There should be a booster vaccination against Covid-19 after five to six months. The reason for this is that, in view of the high number of infections, one would like to achieve the greatest possible protection. There are various reasons for the varying efficacy of vaccinations, they are not a fundamental quality characteristic.

A Facebook image makes the claim that vaccinations would normally last many years, except for those against Covid-19. The person who published the post writes: "Let it sink in, there's not much of the great freedom we were promised after the second spike… it's a rip-off program of the worst kind." So far, the post has been read more than 6.Shared 000 times.

The list gives the false impression that the Covid 19 vaccine is worse than other vaccines. However, context is missing. The RKI recommends that Covid-19 vaccinations be refreshed after five to six months to maintain maximum protection. Very many vaccinations need to be refreshed so that the immune system "remembers" the pathogen. This does not mean that vaccinations that need to be refreshed more frequently are of lower quality.

Why the covid 19 vaccination is refreshed faster than other vaccinations

The picture lists various vaccinations whose protection lasts for several years. Comparison with Covid 19 vaccinations is misleading. (Source: Facebook / Screenshot on 30. November 2021: CORRECTIV.Fact Check)

The immune system "forgets": protective effect of vaccination diminishes over time, often requiring boosters

Vaccinations train the immune system, for example, by bringing it into contact with killed or weakened pathogens. Vaccination causes the body to produce protective defense substances called antibodies and also memory cells. The amount of antibodies in the blood decreases over time . What remains long are the memory cells . If the body comes into contact with the pathogen again, the memory cells reactivate the production of antibodies.

Depending on the type of vaccine, the immune system's "memory" will vary . Sometimes it lasts a lifetime, as with measles or rubella vaccines, but often booster shots are needed after a few years. Because the immune system "forgets" the pathogen after some time. Booster vaccination reactivates memory cells. The reasons why the immune system forgets some pathogens more quickly than others are not entirely clear, as the MDR recently explained in an article. With vaccinations that have been around for many years, everything is based on experience.

How the immune system works (source: Bundesverband fur Gesundheitsinformation und Verbraucherschutz – Info Gesundheit e.V. / Screenshot: CORRECTIV.fact check)

List on Facebook contains partly wrong information

The information in the picture about the time intervals of the vaccinations is partly wrong. For example, the RKI writes about vaccinations against Ebola, which have only been around for a few years: It is unknown how long the protective effect lasts. In the case of rabies vaccination, if the risk of infection is higher, it is advised to refresh it after one year and not after five years. Vaccination against tuberculosis is no longer recommended in Germany .

The post on Facebook also lacks as context that many of the vaccines mentioned require two to three doses for complete basic immunization. A vaccination against measles, for example, includes two doses at short intervals, after which the vaccination is valid for life. An example of a vaccine that requires a third vaccine dose after five to twelve months is the vaccination against TBE (early summer meningoencephalitis; triggered by tick bites ).

Why the covid 19 vaccine is refreshed more quickly than other vaccines

The vaccination calendar of the Standing Commission on Vaccination (Stiko) recommends multiple doses for basic immunization (G) and boosters (A) at regular intervals for many vaccinations (Source: RKI; Screenshot: CORRECTIV.Fact Check)

There are also vaccinations that only protect for a very short time, because the pathogen – for example, a virus – changes and mutates. Influenza (flu) vaccinations must be renewed every year because new variants of the virus emerge every year. WHO regularly determines influenza vaccine composition based on research data from around the world.

This whole context is missing in the picture on Facebook. This suggests the Covid-19 vaccine is worse than other vaccines. But this is not true.

Covid-19 vaccine works, but must be boostered to get maximum protection

Vaccination against covid-19 works, as several studies have shown – we've reported this before in fact checks. The significantly lower incidences among fully vaccinated individuals are also a sign of effectiveness (see RKI Weekly Report of 18. November 2021, page 22).

However, the delta variant of the coronavirus reduces the effectiveness of the vaccination – it apparently declines faster than other variants. Most recently, the RKI estimated that vaccine effectiveness "against symptomatic Covid-19 disease for the past four weeks (…) in the age group 12-17 years is approx. 90 percent, in the age group 18-59 years at ca. 68 percent and in the age group ≥60 years at approx. 65 percent" ( weekly report of 25. November 2021, page 24).

That's why the RKI now recommends a booster of the Covid 19 vaccine after five to six months. For most vaccines, this means that a third dose is administered. In the case of the Janssen vaccine, only one dose was initially planned; here, too, the STIKO recommends a booster with an mRNA vaccine.

Reasons for recommending booster vaccinations, according to a press release from the RKI on 18. November 2021 "the higher transmission rate of the prevalent delta variant, the decline in vaccine protection over time even from severe disease currently, especially in the elderly or pre-diseased, and the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 not only by the unvaccinated but also by fully primed individuals". Christine Falk works at the Hanover Medical School in Germany. Is president of the German Society for Immunology. She explained to us via email why the Covid-19 booster vaccination is needed so early:

The highest level of protection is said to be protection against infection (called sterile immunity). "But to do that, you need a lot of antibodies and very specific antibodies against the spike protein, wrapping it around like a gum wraps around a key, at the beard of the key," Falk said. The antibodies could prevent the coronavirus from docking with human cells. However, not all vaccinated people would develop so many antibodies, they are so-called "low responders". This is particularly common among older people, who could then fall ill despite vaccination. However, they are still protected from severe courses by other defense mechanisms.

"In this infection situation, we need more than basic immunization, and that's why we need to top it off with booster vaccination," Falk wrote. She compares the vaccination protection with a dike against floods: If the infection figures were not so high, the immune protection of each individual would still be sufficient. But if a "wave of high tides" is threatening, she said, vaccine protection needs to be increased for as many people as possible "to collectively hold off the floodwaters".

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