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Colorado Doctor: As COVID-19 Evolves, Vaccines May Need To Be Retooled

LAKEWOOD, Colo. (CBS4) – They were lined up through the parking lot and back onto Kipling Street on Friday afternoon. Hundreds of people came to the Stride Community Health clinic for their second rounds of the COVID vaccine.

Joy Egan is the director for a dance program for the Golden Recreation District. The 73-year-old has been doing it for decades. But the time off- hurt. Now, things are slowly coming back.

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"Just seeing those kids coming in every week, I think I died and went to heaven again," said Egan.

As more Coloradans get vaccinated, there's another reality in our future. We may have to get used to it.

"We think less frequently than the flu and so I don't know whether every year or every five years, but there's probably going to be some sort of revaccination effort for COVID-19," said Dr. David Beuther, associate professor of medicine at National Jewish Health. "Not so much that the shot wore off but that the virus changed and we want to make sure that we keep the highest level of immunity."

Fortunately, the current vaccines seem to be effective against current variants, but the more cases around the world, the more opportunity for the virus to evolve.

"Most of us believe that at some point there will be variants that will be significantly different enough and resistant enough to the vaccine that at some point we will need to be revaccinated."

SARS viruses do change, however not as frequently as influenza viruses. The good news about the current vaccines says Dr. Beuther, is that they can be retooled.

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"These vaccines are fairly straightforward to modify for future rounds," said Beuther.

That also likely means long waiting periods for trials can be shortened.

"The thought is they're not going to have to go through a clinical trial and 45,000 patients. We'll know that they're safe. They'll be some limited testing just to prove that, then they can put that out," said Beuther.

One potential benefit of the pandemic is that the vaccines might also be a pattern for future flu vaccines.

No vaccine is 100% effective and Dr. Beuther says he has learned of people who have gotten both vaccinations and still have gotten COVID. But chances of survival are far, far better with vaccination.

In addition to the two current vaccines approved for emergency use, the Johnson and Johnson vaccine is likely to get a go-ahead soon. Experts are now looking at whether that vaccine, which has been considered a single dose vaccine, might need to go up to two doses. Trials have shown less effectiveness that the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.

"If you really look at death and hospitalization, which is really what all of us should be focused on, it's really just as good as Moderna and Pfizer," said Dr. Beuther.

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But a second dose might yet be added.

"A second dose might overcome potential problems. One might be that a first dose was for whatever reason less effective for a given individual who might have an impaired immune system. Or we hear how vaccine response might be slightly less effective if you take a huge dose of Tylenol and ibuprofen beforehand… The second dose kind of covers you and it may offer more sustained immunity."

Vaccination events like the one run Friday are becoming more and more a part of life. And they are about to get bigger with more vaccine arriving. It's probably best to realize, there may be a lot more of it ahead.

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