Will We Need a COVID Booster Shot, After All?

Will We Need a COVID Booster Shot, After All?


Healthcare worker prepares to give a vaccine shot

Photo: Mario Tama (Getty Images)

Even though the CDC and FDA said recently that there’s no evidence most people will need booster COVID-19 shots, a group of experts from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a statement in which they “conclude that a booster shot will be needed to maximize vaccine-induced protection and prolong its durability.”

The statement is attributed to a group of officials, including the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the head of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) director Dr. Anthony Fauci.

The plan, they write, is that third doses of mRNA vaccines (Moderna and Pfizer) will be recommended eight months after the second dose. They will also not be available until Sept. 20, which means the people who will be eligible for a booster in September are those who were first vaccinated in December 2020—mainly healthcare workers and people who live in long-term care facilities like nursing homes.

The plan for booster shots isn’t confirmed yet

The statement only announces an intention, though. For booster doses to be officially recommended, two things need to happen:

  1. The FDA must conduct “an independent evaluation and determination of the safety and effectiveness of a third dose of the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines.”
  2. ACIP, the CDC’s advisory committee on vaccines, would need to issue “booster dose recommendations based on a thorough review of the evidence.”

That means the plan is still extremely tentative; the last time ACIP looked at the evidence, they did not find that boosters make sense for most Americans. (They did recommend an extra dose for immunocompromised people, to be given four weeks after the second dose.) They may well decide the same thing when they look at the data again.

Public health experts are also skeptical that boosters for Americans are a good use of vaccine when so many people across the world haven’t even gotten their initial doses. The World Health Organization issued a statement last week saying, in part:

In the context of ongoing global vaccine supply constraints, administration of booster doses will exacerbate inequities by driving up demand and consuming scarce supply while priority populations in some countries, or subnational settings, have not yet received a primary vaccination series. … To date, the evidence remains limited and inconclusive on any widespread need for booster doses following a primary vaccination series.

So despite the announcement about boosters, it’s not clear whether the boosters will actually be available on the promised date. The evidence might not turn out to support boosters, and the agencies involved might decide that offering boosters is not the best move they can make. But they’ve announced their intention, so we just have to wait and see.

   



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