Scientists sharply criticized the Biden administration’s efforts to widely distribute Covid-19 vaccine booster shots in the U.S. next month, saying the data released by federal health officials on Wednesday wasn’t compelling enough to cover the majority is currently recommending third vaccinations to the American population.
US health leaders say they are preparing to offer booster shots to all eligible Americans starting the week of September 20th. The plan announced on Wednesday by CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Acting FDA Commissioner Dr Anthony Fauci, and other health officials are calling for a third dose eight months after people received their second vaccination with either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.
They cited three new studies published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that showed that their protection from Covid has waned over several months. A study in New York from May 3 to July 25 showed that vaccination protection against infections has decreased from around 92% to 80%. Another study by the Mayo Clinic showed that the effectiveness of Pfizer’s vaccine decreased from around 76% to 42%, while that of Moderna’s decreased from 86% to 76%.
“Taken together, you can see that the exact percentage of vaccine effectiveness differs over time depending on the cohort and attitudes study, but the data consistently show a decrease in vaccine effectiveness against infection over time,” Walensky told reporters during a Covid press White House briefing.
However, scientists and other health experts said the data they cited are not compulsory and characterize government pressure on boosters as premature. While the data suggested protection against mild and moderate illnesses decreased, the two-dose vaccines still held up well against serious illness and hospitalization, scientists said.
For example, the New York study published by the CDC showed that there were 9,675 infections in fully vaccinated adults, compared with 38,505 infections in unvaccinated adults over the period studied. Of the fully vaccinated infected, 1,271 were hospitalized, which is about 15% of all Covid hospital admissions.
“People are still highly protected from serious illness, hospitalization and death. That’s what vaccines are supposed to do, ”said Dr. Anna Durbin, vaccine researcher at Johns Hopkins University. “If we see a significant increase in more serious illness and hospital admissions in people who have been vaccinated, it would be a signal to consider boosters.”
The body’s immune system is complex, said Durbin. While the presence of vaccine-induced antibodies may decrease, leading to an increase in breakthrough infections, the body has other mechanisms, such as T cells, that can protect someone from getting seriously ill, she said.
“The data shows that while we see breakthrough infections, the infections are mild or moderate colds,” she said.
To be sure, federal health officials said the vaccines still withstand serious illness over time, even as their ability to prevent infection diminishes. They said, based on their latest assessment, “current protection against serious illness, hospitalization and death may wane in the coming months, especially for those at higher risk or vaccinated during the earlier stages of vaccination”.
According to Dr. Archana Chatterjee, a member of the Food and Drug Administration’s Advisory Committee on Vaccines and Related Biological Products, there are several groups in the US that would currently benefit from a third dose.
The data support the need for booster doses especially in those who are moderately to severely immunocompromised, Chatterjee said. Federal health officials on Friday approved the administration of booster injections to such people – including cancer and HIV patients and people who have had organ transplants – after data suggested they fail to produce adequate immune responses after two doses.
“Breakthrough infections in the general public are currently usually asymptomatic or mild,” she said.
People 65 years of age or older or living in long-term care facilities may also benefit from a booster vaccination, said Dr. Isaac Bogoch, Infectious Disease Specialist at the University of Toronto.
Israel, a country US officials have also cited in their booster efforts, has begun third-dose feeding after new data suggests a reduction in the effectiveness of Pfizer’s Covid vaccine against serious diseases in people 65 and older. who were fully vaccinated showed January or February.
“Do we all need a third dose of a vaccine now? No, we don’t need it. Do some people need a third dose of a vaccine now? Yes. Will we need a third dose of a vaccine in the near future? Maybe, “said Bogoch in a telephone interview.
Dr. Priya Sampathkumar, an epidemiologist at the Mayo Clinic, agreed, saying that a refresher may be needed for the general public in the future, but not now. “At this point there isn’t enough data to support the third booster for everyone,” she said.
Lawrence Gostin, director of the World Health Organization’s Collaboration Center on National and Global Health Law, said federal health officials should focus on other areas: the unvaccinated, both in the US and around the world.
Earlier this month, the WHO urged wealthy nations to stop distributing booster vaccinations until at least the end of September to allow poorer countries to vaccinate their populations with the first rounds of vaccination.
Shortly after the US announced its booster plan, the international agency condemned rich nations who support boosters for the general public.
“Empowering the entire US population while poor people die in poor countries is deaf and widely viewed as indifferent,” Gostin said. “It’s also a slap in the face for WHO after calling for a booster moratorium.”
The US surgeon general Dr. Vivek Murthy on Wednesday defended the government’s booster plan on CNBC, saying health officials had decided to give boosters to the public after eight months to “stay one step ahead of this virus”.
“We’re making plans now because, firstly, we have to plan ahead, but secondly, we wanted the public to know what we were seeing with the data, in our effort to be transparent and open to the public,” Murthy told The News Shepard Smith. “
During a briefing at the White House Tuesday, press secretary Jen Psaki said the government believes it can empower the American people while ensuring that the rest of the world is vaccinated.
“We believe this is a wrong decision. We can do both, ”Psaki said, adding that the US is contributing more doses of vaccine than any other nation to fight Covid around the world. “We will continue to be the vaccine arsenal around the world. We also have enough supplies and have been planning long enough in case a refresher is needed for the eligible population.”