Healthcare Industry Prepares For Possible Yearly COVID Vaccine

As the relatively new COVID-19 vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer make their way into arms across the world, a feeling of relief has set in for a pandemic-weary globe. However, there’s evidence that COVID vaccination won’t be the one-and-done affair the general public might expect it to be, and healthcare organizations are making the necessary adjustments to streamline the current first round process in order to effectively handle the possible annual version. The process of normalizing the vaccine into something like a flu shot, rather than the one-time “event” prevention mechanism it has widely been perceived to be, is a tall order for healthcare professionals, and developing the best strategy to fix that problem now will pay off in dividends later.

The overall unpredictability of the novel coronavirus extends to its vaccine’s duration of protection. At a J.P. Morgan Healthcare conference, Moderna told investors that its vaccine should provide a year of immunity. Nevertheless, researchers will be monitoring those vaccinated for quite a while to determine the precise length of that period. In the meantime, the healthcare industry at large must prepare for the worst.

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Reports of mutated COVID strains muddy the waters for a firm resolution and all but guarantee some form of ongoing COVID treatment. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists 950 known cases of highly aggressive mutated strains. Alex Gorsky, Chief Executive Officer of Johnson & Johnson, which is awaiting authorization on its possible one-dose vaccine, said these recent mutations are a strong indicator of annual vaccines becoming a reality.

The prospect of natural immunity from an initial infection, often touted in the first-wave stages of COVID spread as a reassuring sign, was proven to not last terribly long, according to new research. Unfortunately, vaccine skepticism and rollout criticism could further complicate matters. Gallup polling reports that although 71% of U.S. citizens are willing to take the vaccine, more than 60% were dissatisfied with the nation’s rollout efforts. The minority who responded negatively to receiving a vaccine said their main trepidations are rushed development, potential ineffectiveness, and painful side effects. Confirmation that contraction of the disease is still a possibility even after full vaccination has also led to disillusionment.

One the bright side, the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines’ use of mRNA technology circumvents the need for large cell samples and allows for quick swapping-out of strains. Dr. Richard Kennedy, Co-Director of Mayo Clinic’s Vaccine Research Group, said, "All we would need is the genetic sequence information and that can be obtained in a day. It’s possible if we see mutations and we need to reengineer a vaccine, with these RNA vaccines, that can be done very easily and quickly.”

The continued vaccine rollout will be a crucial period of time for healthcare organizations to solidify distribution methods. In the event of an annual dose mandate, a thorough understanding of how best to manage vaccine resources alleviates stress for all involved parties. Concerns about staffing, scheduling, and facilitation of a second dose set will become less ominous as the first vaccine makes its way through the general population and healthcare workers have a comprehensive experience from which to draw conclusions.  Listening to feedback from frontline workers and adapting accordingly is crucial for providers if a yearly COVID vaccination becomes the new worldwide practice.