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The Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech, and Novavax COVID-19 vaccines all require multiple doses as part of their primary series. There is a waiting period in between each dose.
The length between doses depends on factors like your age, the vaccine you received, and your overall health. For more information, you can see the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations.
But why is the waiting period necessary in the first place?
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How Do Multi-Dose Vaccines Work?
Multi-dose vaccines are ones that require more than one dose before the body is fully protected against a disease.
Examples of other multi-dose vaccines include those against polio, measles, hepatitis A, and hepatitis B. Each has an initial dose and then requires two or three additional doses for a person to have full protection.
The first dose of these vaccines introduces your body to either a dead or weakened form of the virus, or a small piece of the virus. That introduction causes your body to begin making antibodies that can fight that particular virus.
With the second dose, your body ramps up antibody production so it has enough in case the real virus ever enters your body.
COVID-19 vaccines are mRNA vaccines and do not contain SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19)or even a piece of it. But they do contain instructions for making the spike protein, a protein found on the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The first dose leads your cells to make the spike protein, which then causes your body to make antibodies against it.
It takes time for your cells to make the protein and for your body to create antibodies. This is why there is a waiting period between the first and second doses. After the body has enough time to start making antibodies, the second dose amps up the response to create even more antibodies.
How Do Scientists Determine Vaccine Waiting Periods?
Different vaccines require different waiting periods based on the type of vaccine, how it’s made, and how and when the immune system responds.
Researchers discover the best spacing between doses during the early phases of vaccine clinical trials. During phases 1 and 2 of the trials, researchers test different spacing options to see which waiting period offers the best response.
The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have different waiting periods because the clinical trials showed the best spacing for each one.
Scientists continue to study the effectiveness of the vaccine with different waiting periods after the public begins receiving them. They have already learned that people can receive the second Pfizer or Moderna dose up to eight weeks after the first dose.
Differences and Similarities With Childhood Vaccines
Many people familiar with childhood vaccinations know that children often receive several vaccines at once.
Most childhood vaccines are multi-dose vaccines, which require children to receive additional doses of those vaccines at different times.
Because children require protection again many diseases, they typically receive multiple vaccines (for different diseases) simultaneously.
For example, children receive three doses of the vaccine against pertussis, tetanus, and diphtheria (DTaP) to be fully vaccinated against those diseases. The first dose is given at 2 months old, the second at 4 months, and the third at 6 months. They receive boosters at 15 to 18 months and 4 to 6 years, but boosters are not part of the original three-dose vaccination plan.
But children receive the DTaP at the same time as other vaccines, such as ones against polio and rotavirus.
Childhood vaccines are given together because researchers tested each one with others to make sure that it is safe and effective to give multiple vaccines at once. Some childhood vaccines have a higher risk of side effects if given at the same time. For example, there’s a higher chance of a fever or rash when children receive the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) and chickenpox vaccines together.
According to the CDC, you can get the COVID-19 vaccine at the same time as other vaccines, such as the flu vaccine.
For more information about the COVID-19 vaccine, visit UPMC.com/CovidVaccine.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .
National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD), Division of Viral Diseases. Information about the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Link
National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD), Division of Viral Diseases. Information about the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Link
National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD). Interim Clinical Considerations for Use of mRNA COVID-19 Vaccines Currently Authorized in the United States. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Link
National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD). Recommended Child and Adolescent Immunization Schedule for ages 18 years or younger, United States, 2021. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Link
National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD). Timing and Spacing of Immunobiologics. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Link
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