Are vaccine makers pushing boosters too early?

Coronavirus

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – The single-dose Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccine was found to be 71 percent effective, but the company says a booster would put that protection at more than 90 percent. This data comes on the heels of an FDA panel telling Pfizer they didn’t have enough data to show boosters were needed for everyone.

At this point, scientists say the COVID-19 vaccines still work.

“We’re learning as we go how to make it better than it is,” said UNC School of Medicine professor of infectious diseases, Dr. David Wohl. “With boosters, we’re talking about how do we make sure they continue to work?”

Johnson and Johnson says to make its vaccine better, you need a second dose. It reported a second dose two months later was 100 percent effective against severe infection, 94 percent effective against symptomatic infection, and produced four to six times higher antibody levels.

In the same press release, the company said there was no evidence of decreased protection over time even with the introduction of the delta variant.

“But we really don’t want to wait to see that failure happen to then react,” Wohl said.

The right timing for a booster is still undecided. Johnson and Johnson provided information for boosters at the two and six month mark. The company has said in the past a booster at the eight-month mark may have benefits.

“How far do you let the needle go on your gas tank before you fill up again?” Wohl said.

He believed everyone will need a booster at some point.

“It’s a balance of well, should we be topping up now before we start to see breakthrough where people are getting hospitalized when they’ve been fully vaccinated?” Wohl said.

Wohl said Moderna and Johnson and Johnson should learn from current Pfizer booster conversations. During an FDA panel meeting on Pfizer booster shots, scientists pointed to a lack of data supporting boosters for all. They wanted to see American-based studies in younger age groups before approving them for people under 65.

As with Pfizer, Wohl expected Moderna and Johnson and Johnson boosters will go to older and more at risk people first.

“For the rest of us, it’s a really big debate. It’s almost a philosophical debate right now because we don’t have a lot of hard science that says it’s time to do it right now,” Wohl said.

At the same time, he says we need to closely monitor and get in front of issues surrounding breakthrough that land people in the hospital.

“Once we start seeing that it’s a problem, that might be too late,” Wohl said.

Johnson and Johnson is still weeks away from having the FDA and CDC debate their boosters. On Wednesday, the CDC will meet to debate the Pfizer booster shot for those 65 and over along with other at-risk populations.

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