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Vaccine scientists, including two FDA leaders, say COVID shots do not currently need booster

In a new Lancet article, vaccine scientists caution against implementing unnecessary booster shots for Covid-19 vaccines

Updated: September 13, 2021 - 10:20am

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Current scientific evidence on COVID-19 vaccines do not warrant a need for booster shots for the vast majority of the population, according to a group of international vaccine scientists.

In a paper published Monday in journal "The Lancet," the scientists, some of whom work for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the World Health Organization, write that "current evidence does not, therefore, appear to show a need for boosting in the general population, in which efficacy against severe disease remains high."

Dr. Philip Krause and Marion Gruber, two retiring senior vaccine leaders at the FDA, are among the authors of the paper.

The scientists note that, for the paper, they reviewed randomized trials and observational studies on coronavirus vaccines and consistently found that "vaccine efficacy is substantially greater against severe disease than against any infection."

"Although the efficacy of most vaccines against symptomatic disease is somewhat less for the delta variant than for the alpha variant, there is still high vaccine efficacy against both symptomatic and severe disease due to the delta variant," reads the article.

The scientists write that the current vaccine supply could "save more lives" if it were used in unvaccinated people than if it were used as booster shots. However, they also argued there is currently an opportunity to study the potential efficacy of variant-based booster shots prior to such a time when there may be a wide need for them.

"The limited supply of these vaccines will save the most lives if made available to people who are at appreciable risk of serious disease and have not yet received any vaccine," reads the article. "Even if some gain can ultimately be obtained from boosting, it will not outweigh the benefits of providing initial protection to the unvaccinated."

This Friday, the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee of the FDA will meet to review the application from vaccine makers Pfizer and BioNTech to distribute a third dose of their Covid-19 vaccine – a booster – to individuals 16-years of age and older. 

Last month, U.S. federal health officials announced that booster shots of COVID-19 vaccines would be offered beginning September 20 subject to approval from the FDA and CDC sign off.

"The message that boosting might soon be needed, if not justified by robust data and analysis, could adversely affect confidence in vaccines and undermine messaging about the value of primary vaccination," write the scientists in Lancet, cautioning the public messaging implications of authorizing an unnecessary booster shot.