San Francisco Chronicle

FDA experts among group opposing booster shot plan

- By Lauran Neergard and Matthew Perrone Lauran Neergard and Matthew Perrone are Associated Press writers.

The average person doesn’t need a COVID-19 booster yet, an internatio­nal group of scientists — including two top U.S. regulators — wrote Monday in a scientific journal.

The experts reviewed studies of the vaccines’ performanc­e and concluded the shots are working well despite the highly contagious delta variant, especially against severe disease.

“Even in population­s with fairly high vaccinatio­n rates, the unvaccinat­ed are still the major drivers of transmissi­on” at this stage of the pandemic, they concluded.

The opinion piece, published in The Lancet, illustrate­s the intense scientific debate about who needs booster doses and when, a decision the U.S. and other countries are grappling with.

After revelation­s of political meddling in the Trump administra­tion’s coronaviru­s response, President Biden has promised to “follow the science.” But the review raises the question of whether his administra­tion is moving faster than the experts.

The authors include two leading vaccine reviewers at the Food and Drug Administra­tion, Drs. Phil Krause and Marion Gruber, who recently announced they will be stepping down this fall. Among the other 16 authors are leading vaccine researcher­s in the U.S., Britain, France and India, plus scientists with the World Health Organizati­on.

In the U.S., the White House has begun planning for boosters later this month, if both the FDA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agree. Advisers to the FDA will weigh evidence about an extra Pfizer shot Friday at a key public meeting.

Georgetown University’s Larry Gostin said the paper “throws gasoline on the fire” in the debate about whether most Americans truly need boosters and whether the White House got ahead of scientists.

The U.S. already offers an extra dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines to people with weakened immune systems.

For the general population, the debate is boiling down to whether boosters should be given even though the vaccines are still offering high protection against severe disease — possibly in hopes of blocking milder “breakthrou­gh” infections among the fully vaccinated.

Last week, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said new data showed that as delta surged, the unvaccinat­ed were 4.5 times more likely than the fully vaccinated to get infected, over 10 times more likely to be hospitaliz­ed and 11 times more likely to die. Still, government scientists are also weighing hints that protection is waning among older adults who were vaccinated early last winter.

The writers of Monday’s commentary reported reviewing worldwide studies since delta began surging, mostly of U.S. and European vaccines. The team concluded “none of these studies has provided credible evidence of substantia­lly declining protection against severe disease.”

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