Are We Going to Need Booster Shots of the Covid Vaccine?

Health & Gender Policy Brief # 121 | By: S Bhimji | Aug 4, 2021

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Policy Summary

There is no longer any question about the efficacy of Covid vaccines. Most studies indicate that they prevent severe disease, hospitalization and death. However, breakthrough infections are being reported with a higher frequency.  A few months ago, there were only a few sporadic reports but now it appears the numbers are rising.

As of July 26 2021, data released by the CDC indicate that more than 163 million individuals in the USA have been fully vaccinated against Covid 19. At the same time, reporting from 49 states and territories reveals that there were 6,587 patients with Covid 19 vaccine breakthrough infections who required admission to the hospital or died.

It is also important to be aware that the data on breakthrough cases is incomplete and not undertaken by every state. Most US experts say that the breakthrough cases are rare and have been known to occur with many other vaccines because no vaccine is 100% effective. More importantly, the data reveal that the vast majority of Covid 19 cases including hospitalization and deaths in the USA are in unvaccinated individuals.

But now more dominant Delta strain is being reported everywhere in the USA but robust data on the effects of vaccine on this strain are lacking.

While American infectious disease experts do not seem alarmed by the slight increase in breakthrough cases, the UK is taking a different approach.

Policy Analysis

It appears that the British government is considering large scale immunization of its population with a booster shot, but the question is will it be worthwhile or an exercise in futility?

The UK government is planning to administer booster shots to all adults over the age of 50 starting Sept 6. This decision to administer the booster follows advice given by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization just a month ago.

UK experts reveal that the reason behind the booster shot is that benefits of immunization tend to wear off over time and the boost shot may restrict the damage caused by the delta variant and may also prevent the exacerbation of symptoms caused by the flu virus in the fall.

Britain is not alone in considering the booster shot; Israel has also started administering booster shots to individuals who have compromised immune systems.

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Photo taken from: The BBC

And just recently the Israeli government announced that the booster shot program will be extended to all adults over the age of 60.

While the CDC has rejected the third shot, the Advisory Committee on Immunization has recommended it for Americans with a suppressed immune system.

Asides from Israel and the UK, no other nation has recommended the booster shot for people over the age of 50.

Experts from the UK believe that vaccines offer good protection for at least 6 months and thus the booster shot may help extend the immunity. So far in the USA most people are only 4 months after full vaccination and it is not known when and if the immunity will wear off. The other problem is that many US states are no longer monitoring for symptoms of recurrence.


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The third shot may not be a bad idea. The reason is that a small South African study suggested that the AstraZeneca booster vaccine had an efficacy of only 21.9% against the beta variant. However no studies were conducted on the delta variant.

But a universal program of administering a third shot does come with one major issue; so far our government has been saying that vaccines are very effective and everyone should be vaccinated. But  recommending a third shot after just 4 months of being fully vaccinated, this may undermine the public’s confidence; this is especially true in the unvaccinated population who already believe that the vaccines do not work.

So far there is very little data on how fast the immunity fades with the different vaccines. The big question is, ‘will the vaccines really overcome the pandemic or will we need to wear masks, maintain our distance and continue taking booster shots for a long time?

Engagement Resources​

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Pfizer CEO says third Covid vaccine dose likely needed within 12 months:

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Joint CDC and FDA Statement on Vaccine Boosters

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Britain  starts planning for COVID-19 vaccine booster shots this fall

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