Will elderly people need to get a COVID vaccine booster?

COVID vaccine booster elderly people
Photo via The National Guard/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

All the vaccines currently authorized for emergency use have been proven to offer protection against COVID-19 for at least six months, according to pharmaceutical studies. As that protection eventually diminishes, however, public health experts believe that booster shots may be necessary. It stands to reason that the most vulnerable, including elderly people and the immunocompromised, will be first in line for COVID vaccine booster shots.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, confirmed the likelihood of booster shots on NBC’s Meet the Press on Aug. 8.

“If you’re a person who has an immune compromise, transplant, cancer chemotherapy, immunosuppressive therapy, you likely never got a good response to begin with,” Fauci said. “So, it isn’t that the durability of the response went down. For those individuals, I am strongly in favor of getting them that additional shot as soon as possible.”

“Sooner or later, you’re going to see an attenuation to the point where we’re going to have to give an additional boost to people, very likely the elderly, before you give it to otherwise normal people who are not old,” Fauci added. “That’s going to happen as soon as the data gets to us.”

Fauci explained that, for example, the Pfizer vaccine starts at about 90% efficacy but decreases to around 84% after a few months. Data for Moderna does not yet indicate a decline, but Fauci expects that it eventually will echo Pfizer’s data, which indicates that the efficacy of the Pfizer shot declines about 6% every two months.

Both Pfizer and Moderna are currently studying the effectiveness of booster shots, including variations specifically designed to combat different strains. Pfizer is expected to request authorization for a booster of its two-dose vaccine in August. Moderna recently stated that booster shots will likely become necessary by the fall.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is reportedly releasing a plan in early September to determine who needs boosters and when they should get them. Government researchers are likewise in the process of studying whether it will be possible to mix and match different vaccines to administer booster shots.

The World Health Organization has called for a moratorium on booster shots until at least the end of September, however, so countries with low vaccination rates can get caught up.

“I understand the concern of all governments to protect their people from the delta variant,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. “But we cannot accept countries that have already used most of the global supply of vaccines using even more of it.”

Despite the WHO’s concerns, Israel is already offering booster doses of the Pfizer vaccine to the immunocompromised and adults over 60 who have already received two doses. Britain has plans to follow suit with a COVID vaccine booster campaign starting in early September for elderly people and care home residents. France and Germany will also make vaccines available to the immunocompromised and the elderly.

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Sources: New York Daily News, Wall Street Journal, NBC

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