A COVID-19 Update: Booster Shots, the Delta Variant, and More

Penny Rabatsky, Corresponding Writer

On September 18, The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had a meeting to vote on whether they recommended the Pfizer booster shot for the general public. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will give their recommendations regarding the Pfizer booster on September 22 and 23. The FDA and the CDC will be giving their recommendations about the Moderna and Johnson and Johnson boosters in the next few weeks.

Tertiary shots of Pfizer and Moderna have already been approved by the FDA and CDC for immunocompromised people such as cancer patients and those who have received organ transplants. The third shot differs from boosters shots as third shots are needed for people to strengthen their immune systems against the COVID-19 in the case that  the first two doses did not provide enough protection. A booster shot is a “supplemental dose given to groups of people whose immune response has waned over time” (MD Anderson Cancer Center).

Pfizer and Moderna both want their booster shots to be given to the general public since the effectiveness of the vaccines have shown to drop over the course of six months since the date the last shot was administered. One study in Israel found that the effectiveness drops in four months. For Pfizer, the effectiveness rate declines from 96 percent to 84 percent. A booster shot would bring the vaccine’s effectiveness back up to 95 percent. It is worth noting that “the vaccines are still highly effective at preventing severe illness and death, even against the Delta variant” (CNBC).

 The Lancet, a medical journal, stated that booster shots are not necessary for the general population. However, both the FDA and the World Health Organization (WHO) have reservations about distributing booster shots to the general public. The FDA wants to look over the data Pfizer released first before recommending anyone 16+ and fully vaccinated get a booster shot. Ultimately, scientists are worried about giving out boosters too soon or too often. There has been a rare occurrence of inflammation of the heart in young men. There is a chance of myocarditis (inflammation of the heart) and thrombosis (blood clots) from boosters. Booster shots may be beneficial if new variants arise in the future and from what we know, the Pfizer vaccine does not protect against the Delta variant.  The WHO wants to wait to distribute booster shots until developing countries have higher vaccination rates. If this does not happen, an “immunity gap” would be created, and it would cause more spreading and mutations, according to Dr. Jon Andrus, professor of global health at Milken Institute School of Public Health and George Washington University.

The original thought was that booster shots would be available to the general public by the beginning of the September 20 week. President Biden has been pushing for more booster shots and agrees with other countries such as Israel who have been running booster campaigns. The Delta variant is contagious and has been mainly affecting the unvaccinated population, though there are rising cases among the vaccinated as well. His new policy is that employees of businesses with 100 or more employees need to be vaccinated or tested once a week. From this, 24 Republican Attorney Generals are threatening to sue Biden on the grounds that this  is unconstitutional.

China has reported over 1 billion of its citizens being vaccinated (72 percent of the population). Since the pandemic began in March 2020, the CDC has reported 226.9 million cases and 4.6 million deaths worldwide. Johns Hopkins University has reported over 41.7 million cases and 669,800 deaths total with more than 179 million fully vaccinated (54% of the population) in the United States. There are still 150,000-160,000 Americans contracting  COVID-19 every day.

At the moment cases in the United States have begun to fall from the previous peak earlier this month, with NPR reporting that some of the southern states, sucha s Florida, Texas, and South Carolina are starting to calm down. The problem is that this week’s peace may not last. The hope is that the northern states will not be as bad off this winter because of the high vaccination rates.

The reality is people who have not gotten their first shot need to do so. The unvaccinated are the main people contracting and spreading the virus to others. Less than 45 percent of the Tennessee population is fully vaccinated and kids are 35 percent of the cases in Shelby County, Memphis in the last two weeks. The unvaccinated were four to five times more likely to get infected than the fully vaccinated; they were over ten times  more likely to be hospitalized, and 11 times more likely to die. While the boosters can be helpful and the Delta variant infection rate may be plateauing, the main concern is for those who are not fully vaccinated become fully vaccinated in order to reduce deaths and the spread of the virus.

COVID-19 vaccine boosters not widely needed, top FDA and WHO scientists say | Reuters

The fight over COVID-19 booster shots heats up (msn.com)

Covid boosters: Effective or ‘not appropriate’? What you need to know (cnbc.com)

Third COVID-19 vaccine doses for cancer patients: What to know | MD Anderson Cancer Center

AGs from 24 states threaten to sue over Joe Biden’s vaccine requirement; Cuba vaccinates 2-year-olds: Latest COVID-19 updates (msn.com)

FDA advisers recommend COVID boosters for 65 and older, reject broad approval | Reuters

COVID-19 Stats: Deaths Are Up, Delta Variant May Be Starting To Wane : NPR

US panel backs COVID-19 boosters only for seniors, high-risk (apnews.com)