Dr. Anthony Fauci and his colleagues on President Biden's panel of White House COVID advisors spend a lot of time talking about "the science", but as the delta variant has spread across the US, most of their recent policymaking has been more focused on creating the illusion of safety: Like demanding everybody in the country get vaccinated when studies show natural antibodies already offer protection, while new evidence continues to emerge about dangerous side effects associated with the jabs (especially the mRNA jabs).
But apparently, the Biden Administration's decision to do a complete 180 on approving a third booster jab, pushing them not just on the most vulnerable, but on every American, like they did with the first round of jabs, has finally prompted mainstream scientists in the field of epidemiology to speak up. Yesterday, we shared details from a Reuters report where several scientists questioned the societal benefits of doling out booster shots to Americans before most people in the emerging world have even had time to get one.
Well, as it turns out, one day later, Bloomberg has followed up with a similar report quoting a different group of scientists and their reservations about Biden's plan. And for the first time, it seems that the growing pushback from the scientific community might derail the Biden Administration's push for booster jabs (which, remember, is contingent on the FDA giving its blessing).
It's possible the backlash could even delay (or derail) approval of the vaccines, especially as new data about side effects continues to emerge.
Because Bloomberg has learned that a meeting of CDC advisors to discuss the benefits of booster jabs - a meeting that was supposed to have taken place last week - has been postponed until Aug. 30. Meanwhile, new reports have emerged suggesting the FDA could fully approve the Moderna and Pfizer jabs as soon as Monday.
One issue is that the meeting of CDC advisors that's being delayed includes scientists from outside the government, who are presumably less inclined to go along with the whole ordeal.
But one scientist warned that it's starting to feel like the Biden Administration's political priorities have been "short circuited" by political concerns.
Signs of pressure are already starting to gather around a meeting of vaccine advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that forms a key step in the Biden administration’s plan to give booster shots to most U.S. adults.
The discussion, originally scheduled to take place Tuesday, has been delayed to start Aug. 30 and last two days, according to a spokesperson. With the controversial plan slated to roll out third shots as soon as Sept. 20, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices is under the gun.
The administration has already signaled that it doesn’t have all the scientific data on boosters that it would like, and that it’s responding out of caution. White House Covid adviser Anthony Fauci said earlier this week that it wasn’t clear whether booster shots would curb transmission of the virus among the vaccinated.
"This is what is really concerning to many of us," said Celine Gounder, an infectious disease specialist at Bellevue Hospital in New York. "Because it feels like the scientific process is being short circuited by political concerns... It is almost science by popular demand."
The problem is that the meeting of CDC advisors includes many voices who haven't already been working closely with the Administration...and are thus less likely to simply go along with their plans. As another scientist pointed out, doling out booster jabs might ultimately be self-defeating. "The math doesn't work," they added.
While the U.S. has vaccinated just over half its population, the virus has been gaining in infectiousness. The two trends essentially cancel one another out, putting the country’s virus control efforts back to where they were in March 2020, according to Ellie Murray, a Boston University School of Public Health epidemiologist who said she has reviewed the data and is skeptical of the current need for boosters.
Without much higher vaccination rates, it’s unlikely the country can bring down transmission to a level where society can go back to normal. Giving boosters doesn’t change the calculus much.
"From a population level it, it doesn’t help us in controlling the pandemic," she said. "The math doesn’t work."
Another scientist added that doling out booster jabs likely won't make much of a difference in states where vaccination levels are already low.
"If we give everybody third doses now," he said, "Mississippi will still be hellish."
Then there is the question of what is really behind the waning efficacy seen in some studies: Several other factors besides declining immunity over time may be driving the change. For example, the delta variant itself may reduce vaccine protection against mild disease, as it multiplies in the nose much faster, even as protection remains strong against severe disease.
Changes in public behavior and the opening of society may have exposed more people to higher doses of virus. And some people who got vaccinated early on, such as health-care workers, may be more likely to have heavier viral exposures through their jobs, further muddling comparisons.
"My worry is that all a booster might do is just prevent asymptomatic or mild symptomatic breakthrough cases in people whose immune systems would get the disease under control in a few days anyway," said Jeffrey Morris, a biostatistician at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, "thus not affecting health outcomes in a meaningful way."
And as more studies show a decline in vaccine efficacy, some scientists are questioning whether the issue is actually related to the vaccines themselves, or changes in behavior, like going out more.
Ultimately, the takeaway is this: resistance to President Biden's booster jab push is building. We wouldn't be surprised to see the FDA scuttle it entirely, knocking the wind out of Pfizer and Moderna, which have already promised their shareholders blockbuster profits on the back of more federally mandated jabs.