The question of the third Covid vaccine, also known as a booster, is one that countries around the world are grappling with. In the United States, Israel, France, and a few other countries, campaigns for the booster shot are well underway. These countries claim the third jab is crucial for preventing the spread of the virus and minimizing the severity of symptoms in those who contract it. Israel, specifically, has conducted groundbreaking research on the third vaccine.
Israeli Research on the Efficacy of the Covid Booster
Israel began its Covid booster campaign on August 1 for those above age 60. At the end of the month, the campaign was expanded to include anyone above age 12. As an early adopter of the Covid vaccine, Israel has been a pioneer in vaccine research. An Israeli study published in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that rates of infection and severe symptoms were substantially lower in those over the age of 60 who received the Pfizer booster.
Another study, based on data from Israel, shows that a third dose of the Pfizer vaccine six months after the second shot restores virus protection to 95%. Pfizer is using this study to convince the US FDA to allow boosters for those age 16 and above. The data is so convincing to Israeli scientists that the government’s new policy is that those who received the first and second vaccine are not considered “fully vaccinated” until they get the third dose. The Israeli government has reportedly asked the U.S. and EU to adopt its policy regarding Israeli travelers to these countries.
The United States Booster Campaign
The third vaccine campaign has been underway in the US since mid-August. For the first month, the shot was available to those who were immunocompromised. As of late September, it has been available to those over age 65 (who already received two shots six months prior), as well as adults with underlying health conditions or work in high-risk environments.
As of September 1, over 1one million people in the U.S. had received the third dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. But in a country of over 325 million people, with approximately 250 million of those above age 18, one million is a rather paltry number.
The Question of Mixing and Matching
As booster shots become available to wider audiences in the U.S., the question of mixing and matching has arisen. In other words, can those who received two shots of the Moderna vaccine receive a third dose of the Pfizer vaccine? And vice versa.
According to Johns Hopkins, it is better not to mix and match. But according to White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci, conclusive data about mixing and matching will only be available in the next few weeks. Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson are all conducting their own studies.
On Ethics and Efficacy
The current data from Israel shows that the third Covid vaccine is highly effective in both limiting the spread of the virus and lightening the severity of the symptoms. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) has called on wealthy countries to stop their booster campaigns for healthy people, since there are poorer countries, mainly in Africa, that have administered small numbers of the first and second vaccines.
While many countries have committed to donating tens of millions of vaccine doses to poorer countries, the rollout and delivery are slow. But for these countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, and the European Union, booster campaigns and vaccine donations are not mutually exclusive. These countries plan on continuing booster campaigns while donating vaccines to poorer countries. For individual governments, booster efficacy is the bottom line.