A patient receives his booster dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine during an Oakland County Health Department vaccination clinic at the Southfield Pavilion on August 24, 2021 in Southfield, Michigan.
Emily Elconin | Getty Images
National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins called Israel’s data on Covid-19 booster shots “impressive,” noting that the shots provided a tenfold reduction in infection for people who received a third dose of the Pfizer–BioNTech vaccine.
Israel began administering boosters in late July to people over 60, giving scientists more time to examine their ability to combat Covid and bolster the waning effectiveness of the initial series of doses. Collins’ comments Thursday came just a day after the Food and Drug Administration approved the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid booster for high-risk people, including anyone 65 and older.
“Without tipping my hand too much, I will say the data looks really impressive, that the boosters do in fact provide substantial reduction in infection — like, a tenfold reduction just within 12 days after that booster, and also a reduction in severe illness, which is the thing we’re most concerned about,” Collins said during a discussion on Covid hosted by Bloomberg Philanthropies.
Collins added that the Israeli data indicated a roughly twelvefold reduction in severe Covid as the nation was starting to experience more breakthrough cases. Pfizer reported on Aug. 25 that recipients of its third doses experienced a threefold increase in antibodies.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, a panel of medical authorities who offer guidance to the agency, will vote Thursday on whether to endorse the FDA’s booster decision. The panel began a two-day series of presentations on boosters Wednesday to give experts and the public a chance to hear more data before the final vote.
Vaccine makers Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are weeks away from the CDC and FDA evaluating their boosters, Collins said. Even though Pfizer’s boosters are only currently available for recipients of its first two doses, Collins said the NIH is completing a “mix and match trial” to determine the effects of administering initial doses and boosters from separate manufacturers.
“It’s not a big trial, but it’s enough to see, do you bump your antibody levels up as well if you go to a different booster than you started with, or you maybe do even better,” Collins said.
The CDC reports that 2.3 million people have received third doses in the U.S. since Aug. 13 and that nearly 55% of the total population is fully immunized against Covid. But false online rumors about vaccines remain a significant obstacle for health officials to overcome, Collins said.
“In the United States, we have 70 million people who, despite the compelling evidence — it’s all been shared in public, of safety and efficacy of any one of these three vaccines — have yet to decide to roll up their sleeves,” Collins said. “And I’m afraid they’re barraged by all kinds of misinformation, and some of it actually intentional disinformation that is rampant in social media.”