Supplemental doses of COVID-19 vaccines — a.k.a. "booster shots" — lose efficacy in as little as four weeks after they've been administered. But, instead of simply getting another jab of the same inoculation, medical professionals are suggesting newer, more variant-specific COVID-19 vaccines should be developed before we require additional boosters.
COVID-19 vaccines are incredibly effective in thwarting symptomatic infections; booster shots offer additional protection against the coronavirus. But over time, their efficaciousness begins to wane — decreasing some 40% in reducing the risk of contracting a symptomatic COVID-19 infection over a five-month period.
#GetBoostedSF! Ages 12+ can drop-in to one of our community vax sites for their booster this weekend. For a list of sites open Saturday and Sunday, visit https://t.co/mYhO6sImkS. pic.twitter.com/nOceVLGnlU— SFDPH (@SF_DPH) January 8, 2022
And it's this decline in efficacy that’s led Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel to warn of a need for a potential fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose in the fall.
“I will be surprised when we get that data in the coming weeks that it’s holding nicely over time — I would expect that it’s not going to hold great,” Bancel said in a statement published by CNBC, referring to the strength of the booster shots over time.
The Moderna CEO also said that some governments—including the U.K. and South Korea—are already heeding the cautionary warning and are already ordering additional doses in anticipation of the need. “I still believe we’re going to need boosters in the fall of ’22 and forward,” Bancel said.
In fact: The pharmaceutical CEO also suggests that people who are older or have underlying health conditions could well need annual boosters for years to come. This, however, is an expected outcome for perhaps the entire population as the pandemic begins morphing into an "endemic"— COVID-19 soon becoming a disease that will be regularly found across the world for the rest of our lives.
But still, about 40% of the world unvaccinated against COVID-19 — the most recent data from WHO shows that around 4.65 billion people have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, equating to about 60.5% of the world's population—public health officials worry that suggesting a fourth boosters shot might further delay vaccinating other parts of this space rock. There's also a reasonable chunk of doctors and medical professionals who believe we should focus on engineering a more variant-specific COVID-19 vaccine before administering another round of boosters pulled from the current stock.
"We shouldn't be chasing our tail trying to prevent them from becoming infected, with the exception of people who are at high risk, people who are immune-compromised," said virologist Dr. Greene to ABC7. Greene, who's also a senior investigator at the Gladstone Institutes — an independent, non-profit biomedical research organization — doesn't agree with Moderna's push for a second booster shot.
What does Greene recommend, in lieu of a fourth COVID-19 vaccine dose? Once a patient has received two vaccine doses and their appropriate booster, they should treat a symptomatic infection with Pfizer's Paxlovid pill to ward-off serious complications.
"For example, you develop symptoms and you rapidly get tested, ideally within the first three days, and you go on Paxlovid. That will keep you also out of the hospital," said Dr. Greene. UCSF's Infectious Disease doctor Monica Gandhi also agrees with Dr. Greene's sentiments about a fourth COVID-19 vaccine dose, noting that public health policy and action should exist outside the realms of beliefs shared by a company CEO who, without question, would "stand and make money" from a decision like this.
When—not if, but when—we inevitably will require another booster shot, ensuring that it's not based on the old dominant strain of SARS-CoV-2 (which all of the current COVID-19 vaccines are) will give those immunized against the disease their best chance at avoiding a serious coronavirus infection.
In the meantime, it's best we pull our collective focus toward vaccinating the remaining 40% of the world's population. Because should we not, we'll only see more severe, more contagious, more fatal variants going forward.
Top Photo: Tagreed Husain (R), Employee of the German Red Cross, prepares syringes with Moderna vaccine against Covid-19 in a mobile vaccination station in a street tram during the novel coronavirus pandemic on December 30, 2021 in Frankfurt, Germany. Approximately 71% of people in Germany are now fully vaccinated and 36.6% have received a booster shot. Meanwhile Germany has confirmed over 10,000 infections with the Omicron variant, a number health experts predict will rise rapidly in coming weeks. (Photo by Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images)