Pfizer and Moderna have been the most vocal in promoting the use of booster doses. Their mRNA vaccines are reported to have high effectiveness when it came to earlier SARS-CoV-2 strains, but have lower effectiveness against the delta variant.
The New York-based Pfizer, which partnered with German company BioNTech, recently announced record profits from its BNT162b2 vaccine.
During an April 2021 virtual event, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said inoculated people would "likely" need vaccine booster shots on a yearly basis to maintain immunity. "The variants will play a key role. It is extremely important to suppress the pool of people that can be susceptible to the virus," he said.
According to Bourla, there are vaccines for diseases such as polio where "one dose is enough" and other vaccines, such as the one for influenza, that require yearly inoculation. He added that the COVID-19 vaccine falls under the second category as SARS-CoV-2 "looks more like the influenza virus than the polio virus."
BioNTech Co-Founder and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Ozlem Tureci shared the same sentiments toward booster shots. She told CNBC's Kelly Evans in April 2021 that people getting COVID-19 booster doses yearly should be expected.
According to Tureci, scientists expected vaccine-induced immunity against SARS-CoV-2 to decrease over time. "We see indications for this … in the induced [response], but also the natural immune response against SARS-CoV-2. We see this waning of immune responses also in people who were just infected, and therefore [it's] also expected with the [COVID-19] vaccines," she told Evans.
Meanwhile, Moderna President Stephen Hoge defended booster shots as people at high risk of severe illness may need to boost their immunity. He estimated that 30 percent of the U.S. population may decline COVID-19 vaccinations. This vaccine hesitancy coupled with the delta variant's wide circulation justified the need for booster shots to keep immunity levels high, Hoge said. (Related: Big Pharma companies begin push for coronavirus booster shots, with no end in sight.)
Many scientists have stood up against the idea of booster shots on the general population, citing lack of data. Back in June 2021, scientists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said while the general population may not need booster shots for the meantime, more vulnerable groups such as elderly people of organ transplant recipients may do so.
The CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) nevertheless ruled that booster shots may be required if immunity from the vaccines diminishes or a new variant reduces the effectiveness of current vaccines.
Dr. Sarah Oliver, co-lead of the ACIP's COVID-19 working group, said that they recommended booster shots to the CDC only after "evidence of declining protection." The group cited a recent study by Johns Hopkins University researchers that said booster shots may be beneficial for those with weakened immune systems. Given the study's finding, Oliver said the agency should monitor residents of long-term care facilities, elderly people, health care workers and those with a weakened immune system.
ACIP member Dr. Sharon Frey said: "I would have to agree with the interpretation of the working group, in the sense that there's no data to support recommendations … [for] boosters at this time." However, she agreed with giving a third booster dose to transplant patient or if breakthrough infections rise in the general population.
"I think the only thing we can do at this moment is: [If] we start to see an uptick in reinfection in people or new infections in people who have been vaccinated, that's our clue that we need to move quickly," Frey said. (Related: If covid vaccines WORK, then why are "booster" shots needed?)
Dr. Grace Lee, the chairwoman of the ACIP safety group, also mentioned that more evidence of breakthrough cases is needed before COVID-19 booster shots are recommended. "I would want greater clarity on the safety data if we're talking about boosting before it's clear what the risk data will look like. If we're seeing severe breakthrough cases, then I think the decision-making moves forward even if there's uncertainty with the safety data," she said.
Ultimately, Dr. Monica Gandhi of the University of California San Francisco remarked: "[Decisions on booster shots] will best be made by public health experts, rather than CEOs of a company who may benefit financially."
Vaccines.news has more articles about pharmaceutical firms pushing for COVID-19 vaccine booster shots.