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Sept. 17, 2021, 9:10 a.m. EDT

Scientists continue to say there isn’t enough evidence to make COVID-19 boosters available to all Americans

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Jaimy Lee

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Here’s what we do know COVID-19 boosters will do

The data provided by drug makers indicates that booster shots raise neutralizing antibody titer levels. This is an important metric when assessing protection levels, but it’s not the only one. Scientists also evaluate T-cell response.

Beyond people who are immunocompromised, experts say boosters are more likely to provide additional protection to people who are already at high risk for severe disease, including the elderly and those with serious health conditions. 

SVB Leerink analyst Geoffrey Porges told investors on Thursday that he expects the U.S. will end up rolling out boosters over the next few weeks but only to people who are at least 65 years old at first.

“The recent arguments from outgoing FDA staffers mainly point to issues of international equity and vaccine access, as well as the lack of clinical evidence of need for boosting,” he wrote. “While these are thoughtful arguments in principle, the obligation of the White House, FDA and CDC is to protect American lives, first and foremost.”

The U.S. has been criticized for planning to offer 100 million extra doses to Americans when much of the world has not been vaccinated. But beyond the ethics of a booster program, a limited rollout of extra shots may be frustrating for Americans, particularly the worried-well types, who now assume they will be able to get a booster shot.

“They’ve now created an expectation in the public, at least the public that cares about vaccines. They now expect to get their boosters,” said Weill Cornell’s Moore. “So once you’ve offered the public cake, you can’t take away their cake and say, we’re not going to give you any cake anymore.”

Here’s what you should expect this week

  • The FDA’s advisory committee on vaccines is set to meet Friday to vote whether the regulator should authorize BioNTech and Pfizer’s COVID-19 booster shot. This is a public meeting that will be webcast. The FDA is not required to follow the recommendation of the committee but it often does. Moore predicts an “interesting” discussion at the meeting, saying he doesn’t believe that there will be solid agreement among the committee members. “I don’t know which way the majority is going to go,” he said. “But it will not be an unanimous decision.”

  • The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices traditionally meets next to make a recommendation about how a vaccine should be administered in the U.S. That vote is then signed off on by CDC director Rochelle Walensky. (This is the same process that was followed for emergency authorization of each COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S.) An ACIP meeting focused on this topic has not yet been scheduled. 

Read more MarketWatch stories about COVID-19 booster shots:

COVID-19 vaccine booster shots are more complicated than they appear. Here’s why.

Doctors question the optics and the scientific rationale behind the plan for COVID-19 booster shots in the U.S.

Pfizer is making the case for COVID-19 booster shots, but Fauci says we don’t need a third dose yet

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