The big question most Americans have is whether a booster shot will be needed to protect against the emerging COVID-19 variants, especially the aggressive Delta variant that is sweeping the nation. As new cases of COVID-19 rose almost 50% this week across the country, many people are wondering if a third shot of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines will be needed to ensure immunity.
According to USA TODAY, Israel is offering a third dose of the Pfizer vaccine after data showed declining efficacy of the shot. France is encouraging transplant recipients, dialysis patients and other immunocompromised citizens to get their booster shot. The U.S. government has said that, for now, a third shot is not needed. Since more than 99% of people hospitalized for COVID-19 are unvaccinated, it appears that the vaccines are doing their job by preventing severe illness from the virus.
“The vaccine is effective in preventing severe illness regardless of what the strain is,” said Dr. David A. Hirschwerk, an infectious disease specialist in Manhasset, N.Y., who is affiliated with North Shore University.
All three vaccines—Pfizer, Moderna and the Johnson & Johnson one-dose drug—are effective against the Delta variant which experts say is more dangerous and transmissible. Studies have shown that two doses of the Pfizer and Moderna shots are required to achieve immunity. The J & J vaccine, which uses different technology, is effective after one dose, according to USA TODAY. However, experts say that is unknown how long this protection lasts.
The big challenge is that while nearly 80% of people over the age of 65 are immunized, younger adults are not, and they are now at risk of hospitalization and death from COVID-19. As the Delta variant sweeps through this population, the U.S. may see a surge among this group and in children who have also not been vaccinated.
“The more problems we have, the more need we have for a third booster,” said Dr. Ilan Shapiro, the medical director of health education and wellness at AltaMed, a network of community health centers in Los Angeles. “The more doors we close to COVID-19, the less variants it will create.”
The Biden administration met with Pfizer representatives yesterday to discuss the question of booster shots, according to Axios. The consensus was that for people who are at risk, there may be a need for booster shots in the future, but for now the focus should be on getting more Americans fully vaccinated.
According to a Health and Human Services official regarding the Pfizer data: “We appreciate the information they shared and officials continue to engage in a science-based rigorous process to consider whether, when, and for whom a booster might be necessary.”
Experts worry that if the government agrees to offer Americans a booster shot there could be a global backlash since millions of people do not have access to COVID-19 vaccines at all. But older Americans and those with medical issues may feel that their health might be compromised if they do not get the booster, which ups their immunity against the Delta variant.
An Israeli study found that the Pfizer vaccine was only 64% effective in preventing COVID-19 infections although it did prevent severe illness by 90%, according to Axios. It was this study data that Pfizer presented to government officials to seek authorization for a third shot.
Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner for the Food And Drug Administration told CBS News’ Face the Nation on Sunday that the concern is mainly for the “oldest and most vulnerable citizens” in the U.S. who were vaccinated last December. In this population, he said, there may be a declining efficacy in the vaccine.
He said that anyone who has just been vaccinated, “that vaccine is going to carry you through the fall and winter. What we’re really talking about is people who were vaccinated a while ago where there may be some declining efficacy.”
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