Some Western governments are stocking up on COVID-19 vaccines over concerns among some public health experts that the virus could evolve into a seasonal phenomenon and require a vaccine booster program in the winter.
Public health experts said the need for a winter booster shot will depend on whether vaccine-induced immunity dissipates over time and if the current vaccines will be effective against emerging variants, The Wall Street Journal reported. Some argued it was premature to consider booster programs given existing gaps in our understanding of the virus and the vaccines.
Concerns that Covid-19 might morph into a seasonal menace are driving preparations in many Western countries for a winter vaccine booster program https://t.co/CTcMwWoFR8
— The Wall Street Journal (@WSJ) May 20, 2021
The E.U. said Thursday it signed a contract to reserve an additional 1.8 billion doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for distribution through 2023. Its central commission noted the doses have been earmarked for a potential booster program along with donations to other countries.
The U.K. ordered 60 million more doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in April for a potential booster program in the fall and winter. The U.K. government also said Wednesday it would begin clinical trials to observe the effects of a third vaccine dose.
The U.S. is similarly making preparations for a potential booster program. David Kessler, chief science officer of the White House COVID-19 response team, told lawmakers in April that booster shots may be necessary within a year, CNBC reported. The U.S. is expected to have a surplus of 300 million doses by the end of the year, according to a Duke University study last month. (RELATED: Pfizer CEO Says Third Dose Of COVID-19 Vaccine ‘Likely’ Needed Within A Year)
It is unclear how effective the vaccines will be in the long-term. Pfizer and BioNTech concluded in early April their vaccine is around 91% effective against the virus six months after a second dose.
Some public health experts said evidence of decreasing immunity would make a stronger case for a seasonal booster program, and argued that existing vaccines could also be delivered as booster shots to protect against variants like those from South Africa or India, the WSJ reported.
Others were more skeptical that immunity will decrease significantly for those who are fully vaccinated, arguing that surplus vaccines could instead be donated to non-Western countries currently being ravaged by the virus, according to the WSJ.