NIH director says Israeli data builds case for COVID-19 boosters

NIH director says Israeli data builds case for COVID-19 boosters
© Greg Nash

National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins said Tuesday that data from Israel on vaccine effectiveness waning over time helps show the need for booster shots eight months after initial vaccination.

Collins's comments largely confirmed what was first reported by The New York Times late Monday night, that the Biden administration is poised to recommend booster shots after eight months.

"As you may have seen from the information overnight, the notion is to encourage boosters eight months after initial vaccinations," Collins said on "The Hugh Hewitt Show."

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Looking at data from Israel, "unsurprisingly, vaccine protection does gradually wane over time," Collins said.

"And so in the Israeli data the people who got immunized in January are the ones that are now having more breakthrough cases," he added. "Mostly of course these are symptomatic but not serious, but you're starting to see a little bit of a trend towards some of those requiring hospitalization."

Collins said officials, who have been meeting "almost daily," are also reviewing U.S. data.

"That's the same thing we're starting to see in the U.S. data, although right now it still looks as though our vaccine protection is working really well," he said. "But we don't want to wait until it's like, 'Oh too late.'"

A booster shot recommendation is sure to be controversial, given that many public health experts say vulnerable people around the world should get their first shots before wealthy countries like the U.S. start giving third shots to the general population.

"THIRD doses for the immunocompromised and [over] 65 is fine; FIRST doses for the rest of the world," tweeted Vin Gupta, an assistant professor at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington

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The World Health Organization has called on wealthy countries to hold off on giving boosters until more people around the world, including health care workers in many countries, can receive their first shots.

But the Biden administration has argued it can do both and that it has enough vaccine supply to allow for boosters in the U.S. while also continuing with plans to donate more than 500 million doses to other countries. Advocates have praised those donations but argued more needs to be done, including building up manufacturing capacity for vaccines in other countries.

"Basically it does look as if boosters are going to be a good idea," Collins said. "But if you start boosting with the people who got their vaccines earliest, you're going to end up vaccinating particularly the nursing homes, the health care providers, the elderly, because they're the ones who got doses first, so it kind of all fits together."

He said an announcement would come "very shortly."