NIH Director Ms. Francis Collins holds up a mockup of the coronavirus as he testifies before a hearing showing the budget estimates for the National Institute of Health (NIH) and the state of medical research on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on Jan. May 2021.
Sarah Silberner | AFP | Getty Images
New data from Israel on the effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccines over time are causing US health leaders to reconsider their position on booster vaccines in the US, said Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, on Tuesday.
“The people who were vaccinated in January are the ones who have more groundbreaking cases now,” Collins said during an interview on the Hugh Hewitt Show, referring to Covid infections in fully vaccinated people. Israel on Monday released new data showing a reduction in the effectiveness of Pfizer’s Covid vaccine against serious illness in people 65 and over who were fully vaccinated in January or February.
Collins said the surge in so-called breakthrough cases in Israel was likely due to a combination of the highly contagious Delta variant and the decline in Covid vaccine protection over time.
“Most of the time, of course, these are symptomatic, but not severe,” he said. “But you are seeing a little trend towards some of those who need to be hospitalized.”
Collins’ comments come because federal health officials are expected to ensure that most people in the U.S. eligible for Covid vaccination should receive booster vaccinations eight months after their second dose.
The federal guideline, which would only apply to the two-shot vaccines Pfizer and Moderna, could go into effect as early as mid-September, according to NBC News, citing two unnamed sources familiar with the discussions.
The New York Times reported Monday that federal health officials are particularly concerned about data from Israel, where Covid vaccinations began before many other countries. The data reportedly showed that the Pfizer vaccine was less than 55% effective against serious illness and hospitalization in people aged 65 and over who were vaccinated in January.
Collins said Tuesday that federal officials see the same thing in US data.
“Although right now it’s still like our vaccine protection is working really well,” he said. “But we don’t want to wait until it’s too late. That’s why we look at the data. “
Until now, federal officials have not recommended booster doses for the general public. On Friday, they approved the administration of Covid booster shots of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to Americans with compromised immune systems, which include cancer and HIV patients, as well as people with organ transplants.
Covid vaccine makers, including Pfizer and Moderna, have repeatedly claimed that everyone will need a booster dose at some point and possibly additional doses each year, just like they did with seasonal flu.
The NIH, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a joint statement Tuesday saying they have a “rigorous process” to determine when refreshments are needed.
“This process takes into account laboratory data, clinical trial data, and cohort data – which may include data from certain pharmaceutical companies but not solely rely on that data,” the agencies said. “We will continue to review all new data as it becomes available and will keep the public informed.”
On Monday, Pfizer and BioNTech announced that they had submitted early-stage clinical trial data to the FDA as part of their U.S. filing for a Covid vaccine booster for anyone ages 16 and older. The companies said they would seek approval for a booster dose via an addition to their application once the agency gives the vaccine full approval.
If the booster is approved, the US would likely vaccinate nursing homes, health care providers and the elderly first, Collins said Tuesday. He said “ideally” people should stick with the same manufacturer that they took their first two doses from.
“But if for some reason you don’t have access to it, get the other one,” he said. “Again, as a scientist, I would be more comfortable fixing our plans on real dates, and that means sticking to the same type of vaccine that you had to start with.”