As the delta variant surges and Americans—even those who are vaccinated—shudder at the idea of guarding anew against the coronavirus, a booster vaccine seems to offer some peace of mind.
But how much added protection does it really offer?
Many scientists believe the question can’t yet be answered. Despite this, the Biden administration revealed on Wednesday that it is preparing to offer booster shots to the public the week of Sept. 20, pending the FDA's endorsement.
The move came one day after Pfizer and BioNTech revealed they had sent early booster data to the FDA. It also comes six days before a CDC advisory committee will meet to discuss the prospect of booster shots.
The administration’s move has raised questions about not only the scientific process, but also the morality of administering additional vaccines, considering much of the world remains unvaccinated.
On Thursday, the World Health Organization responded that current data don't support the need for boosters. Unvaccinated people in poorer nations should be prioritized for their first shots before those in developed countries get a third dose, the WHO maintains.
“We’re planning to hand out extra life jackets to people who already have life jackets, while we’re leaving other people to drown,” Michael Ryan, the emergencies chief at the WHO, told reporters.
The Africa director of the WHO, Matshidiso Moeti, added that “as some richer countries hoard vaccines, they make a mockery of vaccine equity.”
CDC director Rochelle Walensky addressed the controversy Thursday, telling NBC's Today that while the U.S. plans to dispense 100 million booster shots by the end of this year, it's sending 200 million vaccines to poorer nations.
“I don’t think it’s a choice in terms of if we have to choose one or the other,” Walensky said. “We’re going to do both and we have been doing both.”
The U.S. is not alone. Israel began administering boosters three weeks ago. Germany, England and France will begin their booster rollouts next month.
Aside from the ethical concerns, the U.S. action has stunned many medical experts who consider it premature.
Anna Durbin, a vaccines researcher at Johns Hopkins, told Stat News that she believes the booster push is all about the delta variant and the renewed fear of the virus.
“I think there’s this tidal wave building that’s based on anxiety,” Durbin told the publication. “I don’t think it’s based on scientific evidence that a booster is needed.”
Some experts believe that vaccine company CEOs hold too much sway over politicians.
“Pharmaceutical companies aren’t public health agencies,” Paul Offit, of the University of Pennsylvania and an advisor to the NIH and FDA, told Fortune. “It’s really not theirs to determine when or whether there should be booster dosing. That is the purview of the CDC.”