Last Updated on January 23, 2023
An opinion piece published by the New England Journal of Medicine earlier this month warns against young people receiving COVID-19 booster shots.
Dr. Paul Offit, a leading vaccine expert and pediatrician, described new versions of COVID-19 boosters designed to target omicron and other developing strains as “underwhelming.”
Dr. Offit questioned how the booster shots are better than the original vaccine at protecting recipients from COVID-19.
The doctor, who is on the FDA’s Vaccine and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee, wrote that “we should stop” pushing for healthy young people to continue getting boosted because new strains of COVID-19 are constantly forming and disappearing.
“I believe we should stop trying to prevent all symptomatic infections in healthy, young people by boosting them with vaccines containing mRNA from strains that might disappear a few months later.”
"I believe we should stop trying to prevent all symptomatic infections in healthy, young people by boosting them with vaccines containing mRNA from strains that might disappear a few months later"
Bivalent COVID Vaccines – A Cautionary Tale
Paul Offit MDhttps://t.co/vCyVCkOrDE
— Asher Press (@AsherPress) January 13, 2023
“Although boosting with a bivalent vaccine is likely to have a similar effect as boosting with a monovalent vaccine, booster dosing is probably best reserved for the people most likely to need protection against severe disease — specifically, older adults, people with multiple coexisting conditions that put them at high risk for serious illness, and those who are immunocompromised,” the doctor also noted.
Offit is set to meet with the FDA’s vaccine committee on Jan. 26 to “discuss the future vaccination regimens addressing COVID-19.”
While Offit has a career-long history of vaccine support, in June 2022 he began to seemingly question the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccination. In June, Offit was one of two FDA Vaccine committee members to vote against recommending redesigned booster shots meant to target Omicron.
In his Journal of Medicine piece, Offit cited the significance of the immune system fighting off strains of COVID-19. Offit believes the reason bivalent vaccines have not been as effective as expected has to do with immune imprinting:
The immune systems of people immunised with the bivalent vaccine, all of whom had previously been vaccinated, were primed to respond to the ancestral strain of SARS-CoV-2. They therefore probably responded to epitopes shared by BA.4 and BA.5 and the ancestral strain, rather than to new epitopes on BA.4 and BA.5.
Offit detailed the efficacy of the boosters with epidemiological data:
On November 22nd 2022, the CDC published data on the effectiveness of the BA.4 and BA.5 mRNA vaccines for preventing symptomatic infection within two months after receipt of the booster dose. For people who had received a monovalent vaccine two to three months earlier, the extra protection associated with the bivalent booster dose ranged from 28% to 31%. For those who had received a monovalent vaccine more than eight months earlier, the extra protection ranged from 43% to 56%. Given the results of previous studies, it’s likely that this moderate increase in protection against probably generally mild disease will be short lived.
Read Offit’s full perspective here.
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