Speed Reads

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Is a COVID-19 booster shot jumping the gun?

Despite reports from researchers in Israel, as well as the Biden administration's recent recommendation that all Americans receive a COVID-19 booster eight months following their second dose, vaccine immunity may not be waning in the dramatic way initial headlines suggest, The New York Times' David Leonhardt writes. 

Vaccine immunity will wane "at some point," says Leonhardt, but some scientists believe the data out of Israel, which suggested COVID infection rates were increasing among the first to receive the vaccine, to be "misleading," and that "U.S. policy on booster shots has gotten ahead of the facts."

"There's a big difference between needing another shot every six months versus every five years," Dr. David Dowdy, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University, told Leonhardt. "So far, looking at the data we have, I'm not seeing much evidence that we've reached that point yet."

For one thing, the data cited as evidence of waning immunity appears to qualify for the statistical possibility known as the "Simpson's Paradox," in which "topline statistics point to a false conclusion that disappears when you examine subgroups," per Leonhardt. In the U.S. for example, that more Americans were getting COVID may be because they resumed indoor activities this spring, "rather than any waning immunity over time."

Furthermore, the ratio of positive COVID tests among older adults and children does not seem to be changing, Dowdy notes. On top of all that, vaccine makers have a financial incentive to promote boosters, and the CDC and FDA, who in turn recommend and monitor the administration of these shots, "have a history of extreme caution," per Leonhardt. 

People will eventually need boosters, but such efforts now may not do as much to "beat back" COVID as we might think. Said the University of Pennsylvania's Dr. Aaron Richterman: "We have time to gather the appropriate evidence before rushing into boosters."