Since You Asked – Will we need COVID-19 booster shots?
What the Experts are Saying
On Sunday, July 25th, Dr. Anthony Fauci announced that aging and immunocompromised Americans may need an additional dose (booster shot) of the COVID-19 vaccine:
“Those who are transplant patients, cancer chemotherapy, auto-immune diseases, that are on immunosuppressant regimens, those are the kind of individuals that if there's going to be a third booster, which might likely happen, would be among first the vulnerable,” said Fauci.
On Thursday, July 25th, Fauci also stated that mask guidelines were under “grave consideration” and on Sunday, July 29th, the CDC reinstated the indoor mask mandates for fully vaccinated people. The United States is experiencing a surge of COVID cases with lower-vaccinated states like Florida, Texas and Missouri accounting for 40% of all new cases nationwide.
So, what are booster shots?
Booster shots could be a possible solution for vulnerable populations concerned about waning immunity. Booster shots rejuvenate antibodies and bolster the immune system’s response against possible infection. A booster shot would also protect against emergent variants like the Delta variant, a mutation of the original COVID-19 virus, especially amongst the immunocompromised, which make up 2.7% of the U.S. population. Immunocompromised people are more likely to experience severe illness and have a higher chance of experiencing a breakthrough infection despite vaccination status.
Wait a minute - I thought the CDC and FDA said fully vaccinated Americans do not need booster shots?
When asked about booster shots on Tuesday, July 6th, Jay Butler, the deputy director for infectious diseases at the CDC said, “We’re not seeing evidence at this point in time that waning immunity is occurring among people who were vaccinated back last December or January and that they are at higher risk of breakthrough infections.” One unpublished study from Pfizer researchers found a trend in waning immunity against infection over six months but this data has yet to be substantiated by the CDC or FDA. The CDC and FDA doubled down on their stance in a joint statement released on July 8th: “Americans who have been fully vaccinated do not need a booster shot at this time. FDA, CDC, and NIH are engaged in a science-based, rigorous process to consider whether or when a booster might be necessary. This process takes into account laboratory data, clinical trial data, and cohort data – which can include data from specific pharmaceutical companies, but does not rely on those data exclusively.”
The NWHN does not see a conflict between these statements and the possible viability of booster shots; it is our interpretation that in both statements, the CDC and the FDA were not dismissing boosters entirely, but, based on the currently available evidence, they did not anticipate a strong need for boosters in the near future.
The CDC and FDA will continue to base their decisions on comprehensive, science-based data, and the NWHN will continue to closely monitor this process for fidelity and efficacy, as we have always done.
What about symptomatic breakthrough cases? Is that not a sign that we are in need of boosters?
According to the CDC, breakthrough cases are rare but expected because no vaccine is 100% effective in preventing infection. However, reliable recent data on breakthrough cases is not available. In May of 2021, the CDC stopped tracking breakthrough infections and are only reporting breakthrough infections that end in severe illness or hospitalizations. But we do know that vaccines are working. On Sunday, July 15th, US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said, 99.5% of deaths from COVID are now among the unvaccinated. And new data from the CDC found that less than 3% of hospitalizations occurred in fully vaccinated individuals.
What is the timeline for boosters?
Currently, there is no timeline for boosters but some vaccine companies have begun trials. For example, Moderna is testing a Delta specific booster and Pfizer began testing for a third shot back in February. In the last three weeks, Pfizer and it’s partner BioNTech have announced that they will ask the FDA for authorization to manufacture booster shots but it is unclear when they will file that request.
If the CDC and FDA choose to pursue booster shots in the near future it is likely that aging and immunocompromised populations will be eligible first due to their weakened immune responses. The NWHN is dedicated to providing its supporters with the most up-to-date information on the pandemic and we will be tracking any developments related to boosters closely.
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