A panel of experts with the US’ top health org has given tentative support to third vaccine doses for those with compromised immune systems, a policy already in place in Israel, where Pfizer’s jab is reportedly losing efficacy.
The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which advises the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said on Thursday that booster shots for the immunocompromised could be the right move, as vulnerable patients continue to fall ill even after being fully vaccinated.
However, the panel did not offer a full-fledged recommendation for third doses, maintaining that more data is needed, as well as input from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which has only given emergency approval for the three vaccines greenlit in the US.
The immunocompromised include cancer patients and those undergoing chemotherapy, organ transplant recipients and people with HIV, among other conditions that affect the immune system.
While many in that vulnerable category have received coronavirus vaccinations, the shots do not always produce the antibody response seen in healthy patients, meaning they do not receive the same protection and immunity. Some patients showed virtually no antibody response after the first of a two-dose mRNA vaccine, such as Pfizer’s or Moderna’s, the CDC panel said.
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Some nations, like France and Israel, have already approved booster shots for the immunocompromised amid the rapid spread of the Delta variant, a coronavirus mutation first observed in India. The UK is also now considering a similar policy.
In Israel, moreover, Pfizer’s Covid-19 shot has been steadily losing its overall effectiveness against the virus, which health officials say is likely due to the more contagious variant. After reporting that the vaccine had slipped to 64% effectiveness against any level of symptomatic infection earlier this month, the Health Ministry said it further dropped to just 39% on Thursday.
The Pfizer shot was previously reported as more than 90% effective for infections of any severity, though the ministry said it remains 88% effective against hospitalizations and just over 91% against “severe symptoms.”
The new Israeli data comes with a catch, however, as much of it was collected in a Covid ‘hot spot’ where many elderly patients live, meaning the sample does not necessarily represent the country’s population. Some analysts have also warned of other pitfalls in the effectiveness data, arguing the numbers may not paint an accurate picture.
“Any attempt to deduce severe illness vaccine effectiveness from semi-crude illness rates among the yes or no vaccinated is very, very risky,” said Ran Balicer, who chairs Israel’s national expert panel on Covid-19, adding the approach may be “horribly skewed.”
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Another expert on health stats at the Israel Institute of Technology, Dvir Aran, also insisted the Health Ministry is relying on “bad research,” saying “The problems aren’t with the vaccine, they are with the data.”
[The research] skews the results to make the vaccine seem less effective than it is.
As Israel and other countries appear to be inching closer to universal booster shots, US health officials have been more hesitant, notwithstanding Thursday’s preliminary recommendation. Though Pfizer has already announced that it would seek FDA approval for a third dose of its vaccine earlier this month, top White House Covid adviser Anthony Fauci downplayed the move, insisting that boosters “are not needed at this time.” He nonetheless left that door open, saying that US health bodies are still studying the question and could later change their stance.
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