New data from the Paul Ehrlich Institute show that the antibodies drop again just a few months after the vaccination. Does that mean we all need the fourth vaccine?

It is well known that two vaccine doses are not sufficient to provide long-term protection against severe corona courses. However, as scientists from the Paul Ehrlich Institute (PEI) have now shown in a new study, the number of protective antibodies decreases significantly again just a few months after the third dose. This begs the question: do we all need a fourth vaccination now?

Together with researchers from the Main-Kinzig-Kliniken, the Paul-Ehrlich-Institut examined the antibody response after corona vaccination with the Biontech vaccine “Comirnaty”. They determined the increase in antibodies (titer) after booster vaccination(s) and the decrease in the value compared to Sars-CoV-2 variants over time after the vaccination.

In addition, they examined the change in the affinity – i.e. the stability – of the antibody binding to the spike protein of different virus variants over time.

The scientists found that:

According to the researchers, whether someone was vaccinated exclusively with Comirnaty or previously with Vaxzevria (Astrazeneca) and then Comirnaty made no difference in terms of the breadth of the immune response after the booster vaccination.

The data could suggest a fourth vaccination for all people. After all, the omicron variant is predominant in this country. In addition, the proportion of subvariant BA.5, which is considered even more infectious, is increasing in Germany. The Standing Vaccination Commission (Stiko) recommends the fourth vaccination so far only for

Other countries are further along. Sweden, for example, recommends the fourth dose to everyone over the age of 65 and even wants to administer the fifth dose in the fall. And if you want a fourth dose as an adult, you can get it. The health authorities announced this at the end of May.

But other German experts are sticking with it: For the time being, the fourth vaccination is only relevant for risk groups. In an interview with “Hessenschau”, for example, virologist Martin Stürmer spoke out in favor of a second booster after three months. “People who are at high risk of a severe course should look: How long ago was my vaccination, my booster, my recovery?” If there were more than three months in between, the vaccination protection should be refreshed.

But that doesn’t mean that everyone should be vaccinated now, he emphasized. “It currently makes no sense for the general population to panic and rush to the vaccination centers en masse,” said the virologist. Instead, he calls on the government to decide on a suitable strategy for the fall – “if possible with the adapted vaccine.”

Biontech plans to launch one of these in late summer or early fall. It is geared towards Omikron variants – but not towards the currently increasing BA.5. “It is to be feared that it does not protect optimally against a BA.5 infection,” says Stürmer. Nevertheless, he remains optimistic: “I’m pretty sure that with this vaccine we will also have very good protection against severe courses and deaths and possibly also higher protection against omicron infections compared to previous vaccines.”

Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach has already announced that he will order an additional corona vaccine for the fall. He stressed that one lesson learned from the pandemic is never to run out of vaccine again. It should then also be possible to offer a fourth vaccination to everyone who needs or wants it.