Infectious disease expert disagrees with Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine booster push

Infectious disease expert Dr. Monica Gandhi discusses Pfizer's plans with WTOP's Dimitri Sotis.

Drug manufacturer Pfizer is planning to apply for emergency authorization for a third COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S. However, an infectious disease expert is joining the chorus of health experts and agencies who are saying that a booster is not needed to help fight the delta variant of the coronavirus.

Dr. Monica Gandhi from the University of California, San Francisco, told WTOP that Pfizer’s plans to ask the Food and Drug Administration for authorization to release a third dose ignores what happens when your body responds to a vaccine. While antibodies are produced, different types of cells are also created that work against all variants.

Pfizer’s Dr. Mikael Dolsten told The Associated Press that data collected from Britain and Israel show that their vaccine does “very well” in neutralizing the delta variant, but if the antibodies drop too low, the virus could cause a mild infection before the immune system kicks back in.

Gandhi said antibodies do go down over time but, “If we had every antibody that we’ve ever seen in our life … our blood would be thick as paste.”

“So antibodies are going to go down. That’s OK, that’s natural,” Gandhi said. “That’s normal. But it doesn’t mean the vaccines need another booster.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the FDA released a joint statement stating Americans who have been fully vaccinated do not need a booster shot. It also said that while it works with the data given by the drug companies, it “does not rely on those data exclusively,” and any decision on booster shots would happen only when “the science demonstrates that they are needed.”

Gandhi said she is concerned that there is a possible “profit motive” in Pfizer’s push, considering that two published studies from Nature Magazine and the New England Journal earlier this week suggest that two doses of the vaccine is enough to protect those who are vaccinated.

When looking at the recent numbers of those who caught the coronavirus, specifically the delta variant, the majority have been unvaccinated. Gandhi said it is important to find better ways to convince people to get vaccinated while continuing to reach out to those who haven’t had access.

“No, people who are vaccinated are not sick in the hospital with the delta variant,” Gandhi said. “People worldwide are sick because they don’t have the vaccine, so we don’t need another third dose.”

When asked about how protected people who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine are, Gandhi said the manufacturer has come out with “good data” that shows strong antibodies that fight off the delta variant.

“We are not seeing more breakthrough infections in this country among those who got the Johnson & Johnson with the delta variant,” Gandhi said. “So putting those two together, I think it’s working.”

WTOP’s Dimitri Sotis and The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

Jose Umana

Jose Umana is a digital writer/editor at WTOP. He joined WTOP in 2020.

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