A panel of US health experts has given tentative support to third vaccine doses for those with compromised immune systems. Such a policy is already in place in Israel, where Pfizer’s jab is reportedly losing efficacy.
The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which advises the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said on Thursday that booster shots for the immunocompromised could be the right move, as the medically vulnerable continue to fall ill even after being fully vaccinated.
However, the panel did not offer a fully fledged recommendation for third doses, maintaining that more data was needed, as well as input from the Food and Drug Administration, which has given only emergency approval for the three vaccines greenlighted in the US.
The immunocompromised include cancer patients and those undergoing chemotherapy, organ transplant recipients, and people with HIV, among other conditions that affect the immune system.
While many in that vulnerable category have received coronavirus vaccinations, the shots do not always produce the antibody response seen in healthy patients, meaning they do not receive the same protection and immunity. Some patients showed virtually no antibody response after the first of a two-dose mRNA vaccine, such as Pfizer’s or Moderna’s, the CDC panel said.
Some nations, such as France and Israel, have already approved booster shots for the immunocompromised amid the rapid spread of the Delta variant, a coronavirus mutation first observed in India. The UK is also now considering a similar policy.
In Israel, moreover, Pfizer’s Covid-19 shot has been steadily losing its overall effectiveness against the virus, which health officials say is likely due to the more contagious variant. After reporting that the vaccine had slipped to 64% effectiveness against any level of symptomatic infection earlier this month, the Health Ministry said it had further dropped to just 39% on Thursday.
The Pfizer shot was previously reported as more than 90% effective for infections of any severity, though the ministry said it remained 88% effective against hospitalizations and just over 91% against “severe symptoms.”
The new Israeli data comes with a catch, however, as much of it was collated in a Covid ‘hot spot’ where many elderly patients live, meaning the sample does not necessarily represent the country’s population. Some analysts have also warned of other pitfalls in the effectiveness data, arguing the numbers may not paint an accurate picture.
“Any attempt to deduce severe-illness vaccine effectiveness from semi-crude illness rates among the yes or no vaccinated is very, very risky,” said Ran Balicer, who chairs Israel’s national expert panel on Covid-19, adding that the approach may be “horribly skewed.”
Another expert on health stats at the Israel Institute of Technology, Dvir Aran, also insisted the Health Ministry was relying on “bad research,” saying “The problems aren’t with the vaccine, they are with the data.”
[The research] skews the results to make the vaccine seem less effective than it is.
As Israel and other nations appear to be inching closer to universal booster shots, US health officials have been more hesitant, notwithstanding Thursday’s preliminary recommendation. Though Pfizer has already announced it would seek FDA approval for a third dose of its vaccine earlier this month, top White House Covid adviser Anthony Fauci downplayed the move, insisting that boosters were “not needed at this time.” He nonetheless left that door open, saying that US health bodies were still studying the question and might later change their stance.
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