Top scientists around the world – including experts from the FDA and the World Health Organization – opposed the need for widespread booster vaccinations against the coronavirus on Monday.
In a review published in the top medical journal The Lancet, the scientists argued that booster vaccinations are not required in the general population because vaccines are still highly effective in preventing serious illness and death. They also mentioned the urgent need to dose unvaccinated people around the world to save lives and prevent more dangerous variants from occurring.
The review comes as the US nears the Biden government’s controversial proposed booster launch date, recommended eight months after a person is given the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines for the second time. The report also comes a week after the White House announced a massive push to make vaccinations mandatory for nearly two-thirds of the U.S. workforce as bags of unvaccinated people continue to cause high hospital admissions and deaths across the country.
The FDA’s external panel of experts is holding an anticipated meeting this Friday to discuss Pfizer’s application for a booster dose.
The 18 co-authors of the Lancet review include Marion Gruber, director of the FDA’s vaccines office, and Philip Krause, her deputy at the agency, who both announced their resignation in the fall, ostensibly in part because of their rejection of the booster plan Government of Biden. The review was also co-authored by several experts from the World Health Organization, which has called for a global moratorium on booster vaccinations to maximize vaccinations around the world – especially in developing countries where vaccination rates are very low.
The Lancet paper reviews the current understanding of the protection that existing vaccines offer. Although the vaccines all offer less protection against infection with the delta variant compared to the previously dominant alpha, they still offer very good protection against serious illnesses. And while the ability to prevent infection or even symptomatic illness may diminish over time, protection against serious illness so far appears to have been strong.
Three CDC reports released last week confirmed these results in most age groups, with a more marked decrease in those aged 75 and over. One of the studies examined nearly 570,000 COVID-19 cases in the United States from April to July and showed that unvaccinated people were almost five times more likely to get infected and more than ten times more likely to be hospitalized or die higher than in people who received a vaccine.
“Current evidence therefore does not appear to show a need for replenishment in the general population where efficacy against major diseases remains high,” the Lancet authors write.
Data from Israel, which has already begun introducing booster vaccinations, showed increased protection against infections and serious illnesses after a third shot of the Pfizer vaccine, which was originally given in two doses. However, the Lancet authors noted that data was only collected for a week after the booster dose was given and it is unclear how long this protection lasts.
The Lancet authors argued that boosters might ultimately be needed as immunity wears off over time, but more research was needed to determine when it would be needed. At the moment, they argued, there was a more urgent need to give the existing doses to unvaccinated people. They also suggested that booster doses specifically designed to combat the major circulating variants of the coronavirus could be stronger and longer lasting.
“Even if some gain can ultimately be made from the top-up, it will not outweigh the benefits of initial protection for the unvaccinated,” the authors write. “If vaccines are used where they work best, they could hasten the end of the pandemic by stifling the further development of variants.”
Mike Ryan, director of WHO’s emergency health program, strongly condemned the introduction of booster vaccinations last month. “We plan to distribute extra life jackets to people who already have life jackets while drowning other people without a single life jacket,” said Ryan. “That’s the reality.”