Booster works strongly – but remains controversial

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A new study from Israel shows how well booster vaccinations against Covid-19 work. People over the age of 60 were eleven times less likely to be infected after a “third prick” than those who had only been vaccinated twice, and serious illnesses were even almost 20 times less likely to occur. Whether booster vaccinations are generally useful, however, remains controversial.

The World Health Organization (WHO), for example, is against it in view of the still very low vaccination rates in many developing countries: “We don’t want booster doses for healthy people who are fully vaccinated,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus recently. He appealed to all countries to refrain from third party vaccinations by the end of the year – given the many millions of people worldwide who have not yet been vaccinated at all.

Booster vaccination in Israel since July 30
Regarding the current study, “In Israel, the early start of the nationwide vaccination campaign, with full immunization of more than half the population by the end of March 2020, has led to a decline in Covid 19 cases from 900 cases per million population per day in mid-January 2021 to fewer than two cases per million people per day in June 2021,” a team led by Yinon Bar-On of the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The newly emerging virus variants eventually caused problems in Israel as well. By the end of August, there were again more than 10,000 confirmed new infections per day. However, the administration of a third dose of the BioNTech/Pfizer mRNA vaccine had already been approved in the country as of July 30 for persons over 60 years of age and previously fully vaccinated as a booster. The “booster” was started.

Effect sets in quickly
The team led by Yinon Bar-On now compared data from more than one million people over the age of 60 who had been vaccinated twice at least five months earlier: In the group of people without booster vaccination, there were 4,439 SARS-CoV-2 infections in August; in the booster group (which was larger in absolute numbers), there were only 934 infections. The comparison was similar for severe Covid-19 illness: 294 cases in the non-booster group and 29 cases in the booster-vaccinated group.

The researchers concluded, “Starting 12 days after the booster dose, the incidence of (PCR-)confirmed infections was lower by a factor of 11.3 in the booster group than in the non-booster group. The rate of severe disease was lower by a factor of 19.5.”

The effect of the “third prick” apparently sets in very quickly, according to the study. From the period of four to six days after the third vaccination, the protection rate increased at least 5.4-fold by day twelve. So there was an effect already a few days after the “booster”. Both the extremely good protective effect of the initial vaccination with two doses and the effect of the third dose are thus documented.

Better to vaccinate the unvaccinated
How useful a booster vaccination is, however, is not only a question of the degree of effectiveness – especially not as long as it is not known how long the effect lasts. The immune response from the booster could also soon diminish, immunologist Marion Pepper recently suggested in The New York Times. “Is that kind of three- to four-month window what we’re trying to achieve?”

Opinions differ on this. While the U.S. government, led by President Biden and his top virologist Anthony Fauci, is in favor of a blanket booster vaccination, a group of male and female researchers disagreed this week in the journal The Lancet. Priority should be given to those who have not yet received any vaccination at all – in the USA, but also around the world. This is also in the self-interest of the rich countries. In order to prevent the virus from mutating into even more dangerous forms than the delta variant, it is important to vaccinate those who have not yet been vaccinated.

This is also the view of the WHO, which has called on the rich countries to refrain from booster vaccinations until the end of the year. Instead, a worldwide vaccination rate of 40 percent should be achieved by then. The call has not yet been successful – numerous industrialized countries, including Austria, have already begun booster vaccinations.

— source: orf.at/picture: pixabay.com

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