One Response to Plan for Booster Shots: 'Bafflement'

Critics say science doesn't back up the need
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 19, 2021 12:37 PM CDT
Updated Aug 19, 2021 12:49 PM CDT
One Response to Plan for Booster Shots: 'Bafflement'
President Biden speaks from the East Room of the White House in Washington Wednesday.   (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

The US plans to roll out booster shots for people in September, and two high-profile seniors plan to get theirs as soon as possible. President Biden told ABC News that he and first lady Jill Biden won't hesitate on their third COVID shot. "We got our shots, all the way back in, I think December. So it's past time,” Biden said. The president actually got his second shot in January, notes the Washington Post, so he'd be on track for his booster in September—the CDC recommends the extra dose come eight months after full vaccination. Meanwhile, the US decision continues to cause controversy:

  • Biden defends: “Are you comfortable with Americans getting a third shot when so many millions around the world haven't had their first?” ABC's George Stephanopoulos asked the president. “Absolutely," Biden responded. "Because we’re [providing] more to the rest of the world than all the rest of the world combined. Before we get to the middle of next year, we're gonna provide a half a billion shots to the rest of the world. We're keeping our part of the bargain. We’re doing more than anybody.”

  • Life jackets: But others don't think the US stance is ethical. An executive at the World Health Organization provided a much-quoted analogy to reporters. "We're planning to hand out extra life jackets to people who already have life jackets, while we're leaving other people to drown without a single life jacket," said the WHO's Dr. Michael Ryan, per NBC News.
  • The stats: Roughly half of all Americans are fully vaccinated, per the CDC, but only about 24% of the world population can say the same. In some low-income nations, the figure is closer to 1% for even a single dose. That's why Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of WHO, wrote an op-ed in Time calling for a moratorium on boosters until poor nations get their shots.

  • Another critique: In a Washington Post op-ed, a medical expert agrees with the moral concerns above, but he also makes the case that science does not currently support the US decision. There "is no evidence that additional shots meaningfully reduce death or hospitalization from covid-19 for healthy Americans," writes William F. Parker, assistant professor of pulmonary and critical care medicine at the University of Chicago. "Far better would be to wait for solid trial data on booster shots." (His essay digs into the details.)
  • Bafflement: Stat News talks to immunologists and other experts in the field and finds that the decision is being met "with bafflement, concern, and even anger." Johns Hopkins vaccines researcher Anna Durbin says the current shots remain effective at preventing severe cases, even if mild breakthrough cases emerge. "I think there’s this tidal wave building that’s based on anxiety," she says. "And I don’t think it’s based on scientific evidence that a booster is needed.”
  • In defense: The conservative editorial board of the Wall Street Journal, usually at odds with Biden on policy, thinks the boosters are a great idea and that Biden is right to ignore the criticism. The editorial notes that the CDC cited emerging evidence about the waning effectiveness of the first shots. In terms of ethics, "the WHO is presenting a false choice between the US protecting Americans and assisting the billions of unvaccinated folks around the world," the editors write. "The US can protect Americans and help the world at the same time."
(More coronavirus vaccine stories.)

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