Just when everyone thought the United States would be saying goodbye to the coronavirus pandemic, the nation is potentially bracing for another wave of COVID-19 due to the outbreaks of the Delta and Lambda variants. Although deaths and hospitalizations have been in the low triple digits this summer amid 168.4 million Americans being vaccinated, Dr. Anthony Fauci recently warned that “things are going to get worse.” So, does this mean it is time for a booster shot heading into the brutal autumn and winter months? Not yet, recommends the World Health Organization (WHO). But who will listen to the bureaucrats in Geneva?
Moderna and Pfizer Push Third Shots
Moderna, the American pharmaceutical and biotechnology giant that was one of the first to manufacture a COVID-19 vaccine, believes the prevalence of the Delta variant will cause an increase in breakthrough cases. However, the company may have come up with a temporary solution that could diminish the blows of an additional wave and prevent a scenario comparable to what unfolded late last year.
The Cambridge, MA-based business conducted a phase two trial, testing a 50-microgram dose of three vaccine booster candidates in previously vaccinated individuals. According to details of the study attached to Moderna’s second-quarter earnings report, its booster shot created a “robust” immune response against the highly infectious Delta variant. Moderna submitted the information to a peer-reviewed journal for publication. In the meantime, it suggests the public may need to consider another jab before winter arrives, even though its two-dose vaccine still possesses a 93% effective rate and “remains durable” six months after the second injection.
“While we see durable Phase 3 efficacy through 6 months, we expect neutralizing titers will continue to wane and eventually impact vaccine efficacy,” the company said. “Given this intersection, we believe dose 3 booster will likely be necessary prior to the winter season.”
This comes weeks after drugmaker Pfizer revealed that it is noticing declining immunity from its vaccine and that now may be time to introduce a booster to add another layer of protection. The pharmaceutical titan said in a statement that “a decline in efficacy against symptomatic disease over time and the continued emergence of variants are expected.” While some Americans are trying to get booster needles into their arms, not all health officials are on board with this idea, alluding to disputed science and vaccine inequity across the globe.
WHO to G20: Stop the Boosters
During a recent meeting, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus requested a moratorium on coronavirus vaccine boosters until the end of September, citing the enormous gap between rates in advanced economies and developing countries. According to WHO data, high-income nations completed 100 doses for every 200 people in July, compared to 1.5 doses for every 100 people in low-income countries. Dr. Tedros explained in prepared remarks that G20 nations need to do their part:
“I understand the concern of all governments to protect their people from the Delta variant. But we cannot accept countries that have already used most of the global supply of vaccines using even more of it. We need an urgent reversal from the majority of vaccines going to high-income countries to the majority going to low-income countries.
We need everyone’s cooperation, especially the handful of countries and companies that control the global supply of vaccines. The G-20 has a vital leadership role to play as the countries that are the biggest producers, the biggest consumers and the biggest donors of COVID-19 vaccines.”
Others are calling booster shots for vaccinated healthy adults a “short-sighted” decision. Elin Hoffmann Dahl, infectious diseases medical adviser to Medecins Sans Frontieres’ access campaign, told Reuters that the ubiquity of new variants and the lack of supply would “continue to leave the majority of the world unvaccinated.” Some WHO officials also think the science is unsettled as to whether boosters are efficacious or not.
Israel is providing booster shots to citizens 60 years of age and older, with France, Germany, and several Middle East states rolling out similar efforts. Other countries might join the campaign, too. In July, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued a joint statement verifying that Americans do not require booster shots yet. However, new reports suggest that the FDA could be laying out a national strategy for the top-up injections next month. Dr. Fauci told reporters that “it is extremely important for us to move to get those individuals their boosters and we are now working on that.”
What Would Biden Do?
When asked about the WHO comments, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki described it as a “false choice,” purporting that the U.S. could offer boosters at home and donate vaccines worldwide. Psaki alluded to the more than 110 million vaccines donated abroad, adding that the United States has enough supply to ensure every American has access to a vaccine if he or she desires one.
President Joe Biden is ostensibly balking at the suggestion from the international body. Is this a sound decision? Should the Delta and Lambda variants intensify and prove Fauci’s prognostications correct, the president would potentially be sacrificing American lives for foreigners if he heeded the WHO’s advice, further piling onto the death toll from the once-in-a-century public health crisis. Yet if Biden prioritizes U.S. vaccines, the administration will defy its initial objective of returning to the world stage and being a partner to the rest of the globe.
Lockdowns and Masks Forever: The New Normal?
The early estimates show that cases could spike as much as 200,000 cases in the coming months, which would be much higher than the seven-day rolling average of approximately 84,000 in August 2020. Research has found the resurgence has nudged more people to get vaccinated, with some states, including Louisiana, reporting the number of individuals getting vaccinated has quadrupled. Nevertheless, masks, social distancing, and other public health restrictions are likely to return in the fall. But will it lead to lockdowns again? President Biden conceded that the U.S. would “in all probability” be headed back to where the nation was last year. Another wave might push more Americans to roll up their sleeves for a third injection in the skin or risk wearing the N-95 again.