#QuickExplainer: Do We Really Need COVID-19 Booster Shots?

Everyone is talking about COVID-19 booster doses. Is it necessary for all of us to get one?

What’s New?

Last week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (US FDA) amended the emergency use authorization (EUA) for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to allow for use of a single booster dose. The booster dose will be administered at least six months after the completion of the primary series in:

· individuals 65 years of age and older;

· individuals 18 through 64 years of age at high risk of severe COVID-19; and

· individuals 18 through 64 years of age whose frequent institutional or occupational exposure to SARS-CoV-2 puts them at high risk of serious complications of COVID-19, including severe COVID-19.

Booster Doses

A booster dose refers to another dose of a vaccine given to someone who has built up enough protection after the first or regular dosing schedule, to improve the protection that would have dwindled over time. Some nations appear to perceive more keenly the waning of vaccine-induced immunity and have fully vaccinated individuals to take a booster dose.

Data from Israel showed that a booster dose of the vaccine was effective in reducing the risk of symptomatic infection and severe disease. The studies from Pfizer are yet to be released, and the data from Israel has not been peer-reviewed.

Effectiveness

Mikael Dolsten, the chief scientific officer of Pfizer told Reuters, early data from the company’s own studies shows that a third booster dose generates antibody levels that are five-to-10-fold higher than after the second dose. The data suggests that a third dose will provide promising protection.

Dolsten added that multiple countries in Europe and elsewhere have already approached Pfizer to discuss booster doses, and some may start administering them before a potential U.S. authorization. He also said that he believes booster shots are particularly important in older age groups.

Is It Necessary?

At present, there isn’t enough evidence to justify the need for booster doses against COVID-19 for all age groups. Dr. Eric Topol, a professor of molecular medicine and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute in La Jolla, California told Reuters that, basing the decision on waning antibody protection ignores the role of important other parts of the immune response, including memory B cells, which can make antibodies on demand when challenged by the virus. Topol added that we need better studies to be able to assert that, and it isn’t just neutralising antibodies.

Zooming Out

The Delta variant is continuing to cause chaos in several countries, which is pushing some to choose the option of booster doses. Also, the boosters would drive surging demand for vaccines. This means that manufacturers should increase production. But on the other side, many people in low and middle-income nations are still waiting for the first dose. So, we can say that receiving booster doses will be a privilege, which might be given to only a few.

Even though there might not be enough data to justify booster doses for all age groups, some countries might push for it amidst the fear of another wave and the birth of new COVID-19 variants. But we have to make sure that every country gets equal access to vaccines, and governments of developed nations should get together during this time of crisis and distribute their excess vaccines to poor countries. This pandemic can only come to an end, if we all get vaccinated, including the underprivileged ones.

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