What's the evidence that vaccinated people need a booster?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended a booster dose to enhance the efficacy of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, starting as soon as September 20 for individuals at least eight months after their second vaccine dose (it has not been recommended yet for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine). The booster conversation is gaining urgency with the Delta Variant surge among unvaccinated individuals and health officials around the country report a growing number of breakthrough cases in fully vaccinated individuals which, though they tend to be asymptomatic or mild, are of growing concern.
The list for those eligible for a booster currently includes solid organ transplant recipients and those with conditions that give them an equally reduced ability to fight infections and other diseases. A third dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines may increase protection in this vulnerable population, according to data the FDA evaluated.
According to Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, highly effective vaccines become less effective over time. He indicated, "It is now our clinical judgment that the time to lay out a plan for COVID-19 boosters is now." Federal health officials are seeing a trend. "The data consistently demonstrates a reduction of vaccine effectiveness against infection over time," the CDC's director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, said at the White House briefing. The evidence presented at the briefing consists of several recent studies from health systems that have been collecting data on breakthrough infections. These include the New York state health department, the mayo clinic, and the CDC’S reporting system for nursing homes in the U.S.
Most importantly, the studies do not show any major increases in severe COVID-19 disease, hospitalization, or death among fully vaccinated people. However, Walensky noted that data from Israel suggests "increased risk of severe disease amongst those vaccinated early."
In mid-August, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) amended the emergency use authorizations (EUA) for Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna to allow an additional dose of their COVID-19 vaccines for certain immuno-compromised people. (Pfizer has since been given full authorization for its vaccine for ages 16 and up.)
Could a booster cause more or worse side effects?
If you were among the unlucky recipients who experienced a reaction to your initial COVID-19 vaccination, you may be reluctant to the idea of a third dose, in the event it causes a similar or worse reaction. In a current study, Dr. Shaw who is a Yale Medicine infectious disease specialist says “Hopefully, we will have information from the ongoing studies on whether there is any change in rates of adverse effects with boosters, It’s reassuring that for the vast majority of individuals, the currently used vaccines have been safe, and if I had to guess, I would say rates of any problems would remain very low.
Are these booster shots going to turn into a regularly scheduled occurrence in the future?
Many people have been speculating that we will need annual boosters for the COVID vaccines, and we have good precedents of other types of vaccines that require an annual booster. There is some thought that maybe there is a necessity to build out new mRNA vaccines to protect against other, new variants. Looking ahead, building new boosters will help us evade variants that may be more transmissible or cause severe disease or are able to evade the current vaccine.
Public health and medical experts from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released the following statement on the Administration’s plan for COVID-19 booster shots for the American people indicating that based on latest assessment, the current protection against severe disease, hospitalization, and death could diminish in the months ahead, especially among those who are at higher risk or were vaccinated during the earlier phases of the vaccination rollout. For that reason, they conclude that a booster shot will be needed to maximize vaccine-induced protection and prolong its durability.