COVID’s Third Booster Shots Create Controversy

COVID’s Third Booster Shots Create Controversy

FDA and CDC push back against pharmaceutical companies’ campaign to approve additional shots for virus.

Israel has become the first country to allow the use of COVID booster shots.
Israel has become the first country to allow the use of COVID booster shots.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has put off, for now, any final recommendation about whether booster shots may be useful in controlling what are called “breakthrough” cases of the COVID virus. Those are cases that have developed in people who have already received a complete round of vaccinations.

The federal agency’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, in a meeting coordinated at its Atlanta headquarters July 22, examined four small studies that showed from 16 to 80 percent of people with weakened immune systems didn’t have detectable levels of antibodies after receiving a two-shot regimen of the vaccine.

On July 20, Johnson & Johnson, which produced a vaccine administered in a single shot, posted a study online that said that its vaccine is much less effective against the delta and the new lambda variant than against the original virus.

Vaccine manufacturers and government officials are divided about the need for booster shots.

Just a day after the CDC committee met, the Israel Health Ministry released a new study that indicated the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine has only been 39 percent effective in recent weeks protecting against the delta variant. It did, however, provide significant protection against hospitalization and more severe forms of the virus.

Faced with these new statistics, the CDC’s advisory committee declined to make a recommendation on booster shots and decided to leave that decision to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Earlier in July, executives of Pfizer and BioNTech said they were working on an updated version of the inoculation that targets variants of the disease. The delta variant, according the CDC, is responsible for 80 percent of the recent spike in cases around the country. Clinical trials of the new vaccine are said to be undergoing testing at Emory University and other locations.

Dr. Harry Heiman is most concerned about the hundreds of thousands of public university students in Georgia who are not required to have the COVID vaccine.

Dr. Harry Heiman runs the graduate public health program at Georgia State University and advises the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta. He remains unconvinced about the need for additional inoculation.

“Based on everything that we know today, we don’t need booster shots. We know that the current vaccines are holding up extremely well against all the variants for people who have been fully vaccinated. And I don’t think anyone knows if and when a booster shot will be needed.”

The FDA and the CDC have also pushed back against the pressure to approve booster shots. In a joint statement issued earlier this month they said that Americans who had been fully vaccinated don’t need a booster shot.

“We continue to review any new data as it becomes available and will keep the public informed. We are prepared for booster doses if and when the science demonstrates that they are needed.”

In a recently published study in the British medical journal The Lancet, only 5 percent of 28,000 health care workers vaccinated against the COVID virus developed symptoms of the disease. Of that number, only 83 had to be admitted to a hospital and none died.

But representatives of the two drug companies point to developments in Israel, which earlier in July became the first nation to allow booster shots for those with medical conditions that depress the immune system.

Dr. Mikael Dolsten, Pfizer’s president for medical research and development, told the Reuters news agency that medical data from Israel showed less protection against the virus six months after the second shot.

“It’s a small data set, but I think the trend is accurate. Six months out, given that delta is the most contagious variant we have seen, it can cause infections and mild disease.”

He indicated that Pfizer and BioNTech would be submitting additional data by the end of July to permit the use of vaccine boosters.

Health officials here seem much more concerned about those who have not been vaccinated at all. In Georgia’s Chattahoochee County, not far from Columbus, recent statistics show only 15 percent of the residents have been fully vaccinated. During the past two weeks the county has had the state’s highest number of new COVID infections.

As of July 20, about 60 percent of Georgia residents have not been fully vaccinated, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Heiman is particularly concerned about the more than 340,000 students in the state university system of Georgia who will soon be returning to classrooms for the fall semester. According to him, at present, none of them are required to be vaccinated for the COVID virus.

“The critical question is, with school starting early at public universities, whether leadership both at the state and local level is going to put in place the kinds of policies and practices that ensure the safety of students, faculty and staff. There are a number of universities across the country that have appropriately mandated vaccines for the students coming back. And that’s not something that the university system of Georgia is doing.”

Nationally, as of July 22, the number of new cases across the country is up 55 percent, according to Johns Hopkins.

In Florida, new cases are just under 6,500 a day, which is a 91 percent jump from the week before. Of those hospitalized, 97 percent were unvaccinated as were 99 percent of those who died.

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