The world’s top scientists, including experts from the FDA and the World Health Organization – on Monday widely backtracked on the need for a coronavirus vaccine booster shot.
In a review published in the top medical journal The Lancet, scientists argued that the general population does not need booster shots because vaccines are still highly effective in preventing serious illness and death. They also noted the urgent need to dose vaccinated people worldwide to save lives and prevent the emergence of more dangerous forms.
The review comes as the United States moves closer to the Biden administration’s controversial proposed start date for the Booster rollout, which is recommended eight months after a person’s second shot of the Pfizer or Modern Covid-1 vaccine. The report comes a week after the White House announced massive pressure on about two-thirds of U.S. workers to be vaccinated, as the pockets of unvaccinated people continue to rise in hospital admissions and deaths across the country.
The FDA’s external panel is holding a highly anticipated meeting this Friday to discuss Pfizer’s application for a booster dose.
One co-worker in the Lancet review, Marion Gruber, director of the FDA’s vaccine office, and his agency’s deputy, Philip Krauss, both announced they would resign in the autumn, allegedly because of their opposition to the Biden administration’s booster plan. The review was also conducted by a number of experts from the World Health Organization, which has called for a global suspension of booster shots for vaccination – especially in developing countries, where vaccination rates are very low.
The Lancet Paper reviews the current evidence of protection provided by existing vaccines. Although vaccines provide less protection against delta variant infections than previously dominant alpha, they do provide very good protection against serious diseases. And while the ability to resist infection or even noticeable illness may diminish over time, protection against serious illness seems to be so strong.
Three CDC reports released last week confirmed these results in most age groups, with a significant decrease in people aged 75 or older. One study reviewed about 570,000 US Covid-1 cases from April to July, showing that unvaccinated people are about 5 times more likely to become infected and more than 10 times more likely to be hospitalized or dead than vaccine recipients.
“Therefore, the current evidence does not show the need for general population growth, where efficacy against serious diseases is high,” the authors of the Lancet paper wrote.
Data released from Israel, which has already begun booster shot rollout, showed increased protection against infections and serious diseases after the third shot of the Pfizer vaccine, which was originally given in two doses. But the Lancet authors noted that data were collected for only one week after the booster dose was given and it is not clear how long this protection will last.
The Lancet authors argued that boosters may be the ultimate need as immunity decreases over time, but more research was needed to determine when it would be necessary. For now, they argue, there is an urgent need to administer existing doses among vaccinators. They further suggested that booster doses specifically designed against the main conventional forms of coronavirus may be more potent and long lasting.
“Even if in the end some gains are made, it will not be more than the benefit of providing initial protection to the obsolete,” the authors wrote. “If vaccines are deployed where they will do best, they could end the epidemic by preventing further evolution of diversity.”
Mike Ryan, head of the WHO’s Health Emergency Program, strongly condemned the booster shot rollout last month. “We plan to hand out extra life jackets to those who already have life jackets, while we let other people drown without a single life jacket,” Ryan said. “That’s the reality.”