Where the push for booster shots is coming from

Israel has high vaccination (78% of population over 12) and infection rates.

“More than half are in fully vaccinated people, underscoring the extraordinary transmissibility of the Delta variant and stoking concerns that the benefits of vaccination ebb over time,” Science magazine says (article here).

The Israeli experience with the Delta variant is where a lot of the data, and concern, about weakening vaccine immunity and impetus to develop booster shots is coming from. The Pfizer vaccine dominates in that population sampling.

But a CNBC article says top U.S. officials pushing for booster shots cited U.S. studies from the CDC, Mayo Clinic, and Moderna, a vaccine maker. (That article was published on Thursday, August 19, 2021; read it here.) It also cites scientists who argue U.S. booster shots are “premature”; they are not, however, saying they won’t be needed.

In Israel, as elsewhere, unvaccinated people “are still far more likely to end up in the hospital or die. But Israel’s experience is forcing the booster issue onto the radar for other nations, suggesting … even the best vaccinated countries will face a Delta surge.”

Israel was one of the first countries to get vaccines, achieve high vaccinations, and collect high-quality data. Its health system is able to track virtually the entire citizenry, over 9 million people. It’s everyone’s model for figuring things like transmission rates and vaccine effectiveness.

Most Israelis now hospitalized with Covid-19 are both fully vaccinated and infected with the Delta variant, and they tend to be elderly. That’s why booster shots, when they become available in the U.S., are likely to be distributed first to Americans over 60. Israel administers boosters to citizens over 50.

“Yet boosters are unlikely to tame a Delta surge on their own, says Dvir Aran, a biomedical data scientist.” Israel’s current surge “is so steep that even if you get two-thirds of those 60-plus,” a booster-shot strategy only buys a little time for hospitals.

“He says it’s also critical to vaccinate those who still haven’t received their first or second doses, and to return to the masking and social distancing Israel thought it had left behind—but has begun to reinstate. Aran’s message for the United States … is stark: ‘Do not think that the boosters are the solution.'”

That doesn’t mean they’re useless, or you shouldn’t get them. The CDC has recommended getting a booster shot after 8 months, and the Biden administration just announced that booster shots will begin in the U.S. in mid-September, ahead of the winter flu season. Booster vaccines are in development, but initial FDA approval for their use is still pending.’

So, the CDC and Surgeon General are both getting ahead of the curve. That’s based on evidence the efficacy of the initial shots against infection declines after several months, “as well as data indicating the vaccines are less effective against the delta variant,” The Hill reported on Wednesday, August 18, 2021 (see story here).

The Surgeon General now believes the U.S. “will likely see” increasing hospitalizations and deaths from so-called “breakthrough” infections (i.e., vaccinated people getting sick), which are already appearing, although those risks remain much higher for unvaccinated people.

The bottom line is that masks and social distancing remain important even for vaccinated people. And the growing public anger against the unvaccinated (see, e.g., story here), while perhaps not the most constructive way to deal with their resistance, seems justified because the unvaccinated are principal spreaders. They, too, are angry — because they’re increasingly being excluded from workplaces, businesses, occupations (health care and teaching being obvious ones), and college classrooms and dorms. In my opinion, they should be.

Why? Because governments have a right to expect certain things from their citizens. You can be drafted in wartime. You must pay taxes. You’re subject to a wide variety of laws regulating behavior and use of private property. And nobody has a right to be a public menace.

I’m not saying anti-vaxxers/maskers don’t have a right to protest mandates and restrictions. They absolutely do. They also have an unfettered right to believe total garbage about vaccines, masks, and other health measures. They can rely on prayer to keep them safe, if they want to. But they don’t have a right to be in the same room with you and me, if it isn’t their room. And if it is, you won’t find me in there.

In this country, it’s behavior — not thoughts, beliefs, or speech — that’s subject to public laws and regulations. They can believe and say whatever they want, but we have a right to protect ourselves from being harmed by their stupidity.

I’ve had both shots, will get the booster after 8 months, still wear a mask in indoor public spaces (e.g. grocery stores), practice social distancing, and avoid crowds. Even though I live in Seattle, where most people have common sense and anti-Covid-survival craziness isn’t seen much (unlike some places), I’m taking no chances. We don’t yet know all the dimensions of this virus; we do know it mutates, seems to be becoming more contagious and virulent, and it clearly isn’t under control in our country. For me, that’s reason enough to be extra-cautious.

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