Do you need a Pfizer booster shot for protection against the delta variant?

pfizer booster shot covid-19 vaccine
Photo via Marco Verch/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Pfizer, the pharmaceutical company behind one of the most commonly-used COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S. and Europe, will seek emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration in August for a booster shot. But federal health officials are raising questions about whether that’s necessary.

As CNN reported, Pfizer “is seeing waning immunity from its coronavirus vaccine and says it is picking up its efforts to develop a booster dose that will protect people from variants,” and it plans to publish data about a third dose of the vaccine for the FDA, the European Medicines Agency (which oversees vaccine efforts in Europe), and other agencies.

But shortly after the Pfizer announcement, both the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention took what CNN labeled an “unusual move” and went on record to say that a booster shot was not yet needed and that “it was not up to companies alone to decide when they might be needed.”

The World Health Organization was a little more equivocal, noting, “We don’t know whether booster vaccines will be needed to maintain protection against COVID-19 until additional data is collected,” noting that there is still just “limited data available on how long the protection from current doses lasts and whether an additional booster dose would be beneficial and for whom.”

“There’s really no indication for a third booster or a third dose of an mRNA vaccine, given the variants that we have circulating at this time,” Dr. Céline Gounder, an infectious disease specialist at New York’s Bellevue Hospital Center, told the New York Times. “In fact, many of us question whether you will ever need boosters.”

Pfizer’s rationale is based on data from Israel showing that the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine’s efficacy had declined after about six months. Concerns about the delta variant and other emergent variants are leading the company to conclude that a third dose might have to be given between 6-12 months after you’ve been vaccinated.

Axios, citing a new study in Nature published July 8, underscored the importance of getting a second dose of the Pfizer vaccine, particularly since previous research showed that the vaccine was only 33% effective against the delta variant after one dose but about 88% effective after the second.

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Sources: CNN, New York Times, Axios

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