The average person doesn’t need a COVID-19 booster yet, an international group of scientists, including two major US regulators, wrote in a scientific journal on Monday.
The experts reviewed the studies on vaccine performance and concluded that the injections work well despite the extra-contagious delta variant, especially against severe disease.
“Even in populations with fairly high vaccination rates, the unvaccinated are still the main drivers of transmission” at this stage of the pandemic, they concluded.
The opinion piece, published in The Lancet, illustrates the intense scientific debate about who needs booster doses and when – a decision facing the United States and other countries.
Following revelations of political meddling in the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus, President Joe Biden has vowed to “follow the science.” But the review raises the question of whether his administration is moving faster than the experts.
The authors include two leading Food and Drug Administration vaccine reviewers, Drs. Phil Krause and Marion Gruber, who recently announced that they will be stepping down this fall. Among the other 16 authors are leading vaccine researchers in the US, Britain, France, South Africa and India, as well as scientists from the World Health Organization, which has already called for a moratorium on boosters until that poor countries are better vaccinated.
In the US, the White House has begun planning reinforcements later this month, if both the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agree. Advisers to the FDA will weigh the evidence about an additional injection from Pfizer on Friday at a key public meeting.
Larry Gostin of Georgetown University said the document “puts gasoline on the fire” in the debate over whether most Americans really need backup and whether the White House got ahead of the scientists.
“It is always a fundamental process error to make a scientific announcement before public health agencies have acted, and that is exactly what happened here,” said Gostin, an attorney and public health specialist.
The FDA did not respond to requests for comment Monday morning.
The United States already offers an additional dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines to people with severely weakened immune systems.
For the general population, the debate boils down to whether boosters should be given even though the vaccines still offer high protection against severe disease, possibly in the hope of blocking milder infections among those who are fully vaccinated.
Last week, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said new data showed that as the delta increased, the unvaccinated were 4.5 times more likely to become infected than the fully vaccinated, more than 10 times more likely to be hospitalized, and 11 times more likely to die. Still, government scientists are also weighing signs that protection is waning among older adults who were vaccinated early last winter.
The authors of Monday’s comment reported having reviewed worldwide studies since the delta began to rise, primarily from American and European vaccines. The team concluded that “none of these studies have provided credible evidence of a substantial decrease in protection against serious diseases.”
Because the body creates layers of immunity, gradual drops in antibody levels do not necessarily mean that overall effectiveness is decreasing “and reductions in vaccine efficacy against mild disease do not necessarily predict reductions in efficacy (generally higher) against serious illness, “they wrote. .
The more the virus spreads, the more chances it has to become strains that could escape current vaccines. Lancet reviewers suggest that there could be greater gains from creating booster doses that better match circulating variants, just like the flu vaccine is regularly updated, than simply giving additional doses of the original vaccine.
“There is now an opportunity to study variant-based drivers before there is a widespread need for them,” the scientists wrote.
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