ATLANTA - Many vaccine experts believe COVID-19 vaccine boosters may be needed at some point, either because of waning immunity or the delta or another variant down the road.
The debate centers around whether those extra doses are needed now.
The Biden Administration announced weeks ago their goal is to begin rolling out boosters to all Americans the week of September 20, 2021, if the FDA and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) approve the plan.
Microbiologist Amber Schmidtke, Ph.D., Chair of the Department of Natural Sciences and Mathematics at the University of Saint Mary, say, if this pandemic has taught us anything, it is to be careful about setting arbitrary deadlines.
"We set an "independence day from the virus" July Fourth, and that blew up famously in our faces," Schmidtke says "What we should learn from this pandemic is you can never say never to COVID-19. So, I think we really need to let the data guide us and make decisions based on the evidence that is presented. So, while the White House may have one thing in mind, I think the decision needs to remain with the ACIP and the FDA."
US health officials say they are seeing signs the shots' protection decreases over time, and breakthrough infections in vaccinated people are becoming more common.
But Schmidtke isn't convinced healthy Americans need boosters.
She wants to see what scientific data the FDA and ACIP have about whether third shots would be beneficial at this point.
"There is some evidence there may be waning immunity," she says. "So, in some context, it might make sense to do those boosters for example people who are immunocompromised, people who are healthcare workers, who were among the first to be vaccinated. But, for the general population, I'm not sure the data is there yet."
Neither are the international scientists behind a review published in the medical journal The Lancet on Monday.
They found the vaccines remain highly effective at preventing severe COVID-19, writing, "current evidence does not, therefore, appear to show a need for boosting in the general population."
The FDA plans to meet Friday to make a decision on booster shots.
If the agency authorizes third doses of the mRNA vaccines, ACIP will meet to decide whether to recommend them.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky would then decide whether to sign off on the advisory panel's decision.
"I think we would be better served by making sure that doses goes to people who have never seen a vaccine dose before, in some ways, than vaccinating people who are already fully vaccinated, " Schmidtke says. "But, I understand, also, the desire to try to protect yourself when it seems like diseases are out of control."
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