Booster shots are working. Rich countries want to turbocharge their rollout


In the United States, Pfizer-BioNTech are seeking emergency use authorization from the US Food and Drug Administration for the booster to be distributed to all people aged 18 and over. The drug makers said on Tuesday that results of a Phase 3 trial involving 10,000 participants provided “stunning” results in favor of a third shot. Boosters had an efficacy of 95% against symptomatic Covid-19, they said, compared with the two-dose schedule.

Boosters are already currently available for many Americans. People over 65 and those in certain jobs such as teachers and health care workers, as well as those who are overweight, have depression or a long list of other medical conditions are already eligible — accounting for at least 89% of vaccinated adults, according to an analysis by epidemiologists for CNN. If regulators expand the booster program to all adults, it will move the US closer towards President Joe Biden’s wider-reaching booster plan, which he’s advocated for since August.

European leaders are also prioritizing booster shots as the continent marks a worrying surge in recent cases. The region is once again the “epicenter” of the pandemic, with the World Health Organization (WHO) saying on Thursday that Europe had seen a more than 50% jump in Covid cases in the past month.

In France, nearly 150,000 people booked appointments for booster doses after French President Emmanuel Macron said on Tuesday that a third dose would be required to revalidate one’s health pass. The country’s health pass has been an essential tool for the government in boosting vaccination rates, banning entry to public transport and a variety of public and private spaces for those without proof of full vaccination. People over 65 will have to show proof of a third shot by mid-December, Macron said. That age group has been able to access booster shots since the beginning of September.

And in Germany, health officials expanded its booster vaccine program to all adults on Friday, following a “worrying” record in daily infections. On Monday, Germany recorded its highest seven-day incidence rate since the pandemic began.

Meanwhile, the world’s poorest countries continue to bear the brunt of an inequitable global rollout, with a rise in booster shots only amplifying that stark disparity.

In the United Kingdom, for example, 74% of its population have had at least one dose, 67% have gotten two doses, and 15% of the population have already received a booster shot. In contrast, only 9% of people in African countries on average have had a first dose, according to Our World in Data. Only 6.29% of Africa is fully vaccinated, the data shows.

WHO warns that vaccine inequality will prolong the pandemic, with senior leader Dr. Bruce Aylward saying last month that such disparities could see the pandemic “easily drag on deep into 2022.”

YOU ASKED, WE ANSWERED

Q: Which booster shot should I get? 

A: For the most part, it doesn’t matter. Studies indicate it’s all right to mix and match vaccine doses. In some cases it may provide a more powerful boost to get a different vaccine type, but any booster dose will bring immune protection up to very high levels.

Some of the initial data suggests that boosting with a different vaccine type from your initial series might provide a stronger response — but it’s only preliminary data. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says they assume most people will just have the same vaccine they got originally as a booster — and that would be fine. All the groups in an ongoing study by the US National Institutes of Health that compares the three authorized vaccines in the US got a big jump in immunity from a booster shot, starting about 15 days after it was given.

However, some people might want to use a different vaccine type. For example, a younger man who initially got a Moderna vaccine might seek Johnson and Johnson’s vaccine for the boost, because mRNA vaccines like Pfizer’s and Moderna’s are linked with a slight risk of a heart inflammation called myocarditis, while J&J’s isn’t. Men under 40 are at higher risk of myocarditis. And a woman under 50 might prefer to get an mRNA vaccine for her booster shot, because the J&J vaccine is linked with a slightly higher risk of a rare blood clotting condition that is more likely to affect younger women.

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READS OF THE WEEK

Americans welcome travelers from Canada to the US on Monday, November 8.

The US travel ban is lifted as cases in Europe surge

The United States reopened its borders to fully vaccinated international travelers on Monday, ending a 20-month travel ban on people entering from 33 countries, which include the UK and much of Europe.

But beyond the joyous scenes unfolding across American airports lies a dark backdrop, Sheena McKenzie writes.

Europe is in the grip of its fifth wave of the pandemic and large swathes of the continent are battling to beat back surges of the Delta variant, amid the relaxation of restrictions and stuttering vaccine rollouts in some countries. WHO has warned that a half a million Europeans could die with Covid-19 in a potentially devastating winter, leading some to question if the US will be importing more of the virus as packed transatlantic flights land on American soil.

What the end of the pandemic could look like

It’s highly unlikely that the United States, let alone the world, can eliminate the virus that causes Covid-19, Jacqueline Howard writes.

But there will come a day when it’s no longer a pandemic, when cases are no longer out of control and hospitals aren’t at great risk of overflowing with patients. Many experts predict the spread of coronavirus will look and feel more like seasonal influenza. What’s less clear is how and when that will happen. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the US Senate in a hearing on Thursday that “what we hope to get it at is such a low level that even though it isn’t completely eliminated, it doesn’t have a major impact on public health or on the way we run our lives.” Fauci said that if more people around the world get vaccinated quicker, “hopefully within a reasonable period of time we will get to that point where it might occasionally be up and down in the background but it won’t dominate us the way it’s doing right now.”

But to transition from pandemic to endemic, populations need to build up immunity to the coronavirus. And with vaccine hesitancy persisting and populations refusing to wear masks, that transition could take time.

Unvaccinated man apologizes to medical staff who saved his life

After battling Covid for almost a month and being released from a Seattle hospital, Richard Soliz returned in late October. But this time it wasn’t for another treatment — it was to apologize, Noah Sheidlower and Christina Zdanowicz write.

Soliz, a graphic artist who had not gotten vaccinated, spent 28 days on a ventilator and heart monitor in hospital in late August and much of September. He is now fully inoculated, and is encouraging people to get the vaccine — not just because of what he went through, but because of the “tremendous burden” on medical staff, many of whom work 12-hour shifts and have received little time off.

“I am certain that there is truth to this virus, and not being vaccinated leaves you vulnerable to the extent of possibly really taking a person’s life,” Soliz said. “I personally know that, because I was not vaccinated. I did not act, I wasn’t certain, and I nearly lost my life,” he said.

TODAY’S TOP TIP

While the US lifted its travel ban this week, strict rules for entering the country still apply. Here’s what you need to know before flying:

Getting vaccinated is a key requirement for most international travelers hoping to enter. Children under 18 are exempt.

Air travelers aged 2 and up also need to provide proof of a negative Covid-19 test, regardless of nationality. Passengers are required to test negative for Covid-19 within three days of their flight’s departure.

LISTEN TO OUR PODCAST

CNN’s Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta talks to US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy about vaccinating younger children. They are also candid about the mental, physical and emotional tolls of the pandemic on young people. Listen here.

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