TEXAS (Dispatches) – The Biden administration’s plan to provide COVID-19 vaccine boosters is based on concerns that a decrease in the vaccines’ ability to protect against milder infections could also mean people will have less protection against severe illness, a premise that has yet to be proven, scientists said on Thursday.
U.S. officials, citing data showing waning protection against mild and moderate illness from the Pfizer-BioNTech (PFE.N), and Moderna (MRNA.O) vaccines more than six months after inoculation, on Wednesday said boosters will be made widely available starting on Sept. 20.
The additional dose will be offered to people who received their initial inoculation at least eight months earlier.
“Recent data makes clear that protection against mild and moderate disease has decreased over time. This is likely due to both waning immunity and the strength of the widespread Delta variant,” U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy told reporters.
“We are concerned that this pattern of decline we are seeing will continue in the months ahead, which could lead to reduced protection against severe disease, hospitalization, and death.”
Data on so-called “breakthrough” infections in vaccinated people shows that older Americans have so far been the most vulnerable to severe illness.
As of Aug. 9, almost 74% of the 8,054 vaccinated people that were hospitalized with COVID-19 were above the age of 65, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Almost 20% of those cases ended in deaths.
Based on available data on vaccine protection, it is not clear that younger, healthier people will be at risk.
“We don’t know if that translates into a problem with the vaccine doing what is most important, which is protect against hospitalization, death, and serious disease. On that, the jury is still out,” said Dr. Jesse Goodman, an infectious disease expert at Georgetown University in Washington and a former chief scientist at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Several countries have decided to provide booster shots to older adults and people with weak immune systems. European Union officials said on Wednesday they do not yet see a need to give booster shots to the general population.
The new wave of pandemic in the United States is having a devastating effect on hospitals in the south-central state of Texas, with state officials terming it “one of its worst fights”.
The second largest state in the state has averaged more than 15,000 new cases a day this week, up from an average of more than 10,000 cases a day two weeks earlier.
The alarming surge in new hospitalizations comes amid growing debate over mandatory mask wearing and debilitating health care facilities with hospitals stretched to capacity.
The state’s health authorities were quoted as saying by the CNN that Texas was battling a vicious wave of Covid-19 pandemic driven by new variants.
“Hospital capacity concerns are worsening. Fatalities are increasing faster,” the state’s health department said, complaining of the dearth of ICU beds.
According to the CDC, the delta variant now accounts for more than 98.8 percent of cases in the country.