Booster Shots Opening for At-Risk Populations

Although the World Health Organization has called for a pause on administering a third booster COVID vaccine for people over 60, early research has found that a third shot significantly lowers COVID infection risk in seniors.  Amid surging numbers of Delta variant cases, the United States and Israel have begun making booster shots available to older adults and vulnerable populations with plans to open up eligibility to more groups in the near future. 

A recent study, published by the Israeli Health Ministery found that a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine significantly improved protection for people over the age of 60 from infection and serious illness compared with older adults who received just two doses.  According to a U.S. News report, a booster shot of the Pfizer vaccines provided four times the protection compared with two doses in study participants 60 and older.  The study indicates protection from serious illness and hospitalization is five to six times higher than with two doses. 

Researchers examined virus protection 10 days after administering a third dose, finding the booster strengthened immunity once the body’s immunity from the initial two doses began to decline.  The U.S. is preparing to offer booster shots for all Americans starting the week of September 20 and beginning 8 months after an individual’s second dose.  Health care providers, nursing home residents, and other seniors will be among the first to be eligible for a booster as they were the first to be fully vaccinated, and the most vulnerable. 

In contrast, the WHO has asked for a moratorium on COVID-19 booster shots to allow countries with limited vaccine supply to make more progress in distributing first and second doses.  WHO officials do agree that a third dose is appropriate for people who are immunocompromised but believe that delivering vaccines worldwide before administering boosters could help prevent new variants from emerging. 

U.S. Health officials are starting to see evidence of reduced protection against mild and moderate disease, and worry that two-dose immunization against severe disease, hospitalization, and death could diminish in the coming months, especially among those at higher risk. 

In Ontario, Canada, high-risk people will be offered a third dose of a COVID-19 beginning in August.  Transplant patients, long-term care residents, and seniors in indigenous eldercare lodges will be among the eligible population to receive a booster shot of the COVID vaccine.  Vaccine mandates for high-risk environments are still under discussion and policies are expected to be released in the coming weeks.