A CDC scientist said Monday that the data needed to properly evaluate Covid-19 vaccine booster vaccinations for the general population is limited – even if President Joe Biden pressures health officials to stop vaccinations Week of September 20th for wide distribution.
The presentation by Dr. Sara Oliver at a meeting of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Advisory Group suggests the panel may limit its initial endorsement of additional shots to vulnerable groups and health care workers.
A nurse vaccinates 15-year-old Sherri Trimble at a vaccination clinic at Health First Medical Center in Melbourne, Florida.
Paul Hennessy | SOPA pictures | LightRakete | Getty Images
Several studies suggest that the approved Covid vaccines may still be effective in preventing serious illness and hospitalization, but may be less effective in preventing infections or mild symptomatic illnesses, according to Oliver. The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Vaccination Practices will meet Monday to consider booster vaccinations for all eligible Americans. The panel is also due to vote on the final approval of the Pfizer vaccine by the Food and Drug Administration.
Since the highly contagious Delta variant first appeared, the vaccine’s effectiveness ranged from 39% to 84%, according to Oliver’s presentation, which referred to several separate studies. A study of health workers and first responders showed that the vaccine’s overall effectiveness dropped to about 65% in July – up from about 90% in February. Israeli data shows that the effectiveness of Pfizer’s vaccine in this country has dropped as low as 39%.
Scientists have said that the vaccines become less effective over time, and the Delta variant is a more resilient strain that is able to break through that protection.
According to Oliver’s presentation slides, “it is important to monitor efficacy trends by disease severity over time”.
It was pointed out on the slides that vaccines often require multiple doses. Hepatitis B and HPV vaccinations, for example, require a third dose after six months.
“Vaccines that require more than one dose don’t necessarily mean that an annual booster is required,” Oliver said during the presentation.
Once booster shots are available, nursing home residents, health care providers, and the elderly – the first groups to be vaccinated in December and January – will likely be given priority for the additional vaccinations, according to the CDC slides.
The CDC stressed that vaccinating the unvaccinated should be a “top priority” and giving booster doses to vaccinated individuals should not deter those who remain unprotected from the virus.
The agency also stressed the importance of vaccine availability around the world.
“An uncontrolled global spread that could lead to new variants threatens the control of the pandemic everywhere,” said Oliver. In addition to global distribution, policy on boosters should also take into account “equity in the US population,” she added.
The meeting on Monday comes after President Joe Biden said Friday that U.S. regulators are considering giving Covid booster vaccinations five months after the basic vaccinations are completed and are bringing forward the expected schedule for a third vaccination by three months.
Scientists have sharply criticized the Biden administration’s push to distribute booster syringes widely, saying that the data provided by federal health officials is not convincing enough to currently recommend a third vaccination to most of the American population.
The Biden government has publicly stated that the third dose will not be given without FDA approval and a vote from ACIP.