FDA approves third Pfizer dose for people with weak immune systems

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© Marcos del Mazo

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have approved a third Pfizer dose for people who are immunocompromised – despite the WHO asking Governments to wait until other countries attain majority double-vaccinated status

The announcement today (13 August) means that individuals with compromised immune systems will be eligible to take a third Pfizer or Moderna dose, to keep their protection against COVID at the maximum level.

‘The country has entered yet another wave’, says FDA chief

Acting FDA Commissioner Dr Janet Woodcock, said: “The country has entered yet another wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the FDA is especially cognizant that immunocompromised people are particularly at risk for severe disease. After a thorough review of the available data, the FDA determined that this small, vulnerable group may benefit from a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna Vaccines.”

Studies on organ transplant patients, who are notoriously immunocompromised post-surgery, have found that two doses of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine decreases infection and death risks.

Dr Rommel Ravanan and colleagues, who worked on analysing the data of organ transplant recipients, said that they want to: “encourage currently unvaccinated patients to take up the offer of both vaccine doses at the earliest opportunity.”

Currently, the US is experiencing a rise in case levels, with 139,000 new infections as of 12 August.

The WHO asks richer countries to wait on boosters

On Wednesday (4 August), WHO leader Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus asked richer countries in the Global North to hold off on administering their third COVID doses, also known as booster jabs.

Speaking at a press conference, he said:  “We need an urgent reversal from the majority of vaccines going to high-income countries, to the majority going to low income countries.”

He explained that countries across the Global South were struggling to attain 10% fully vaccinated, leaving these places open to huge devastation and further variants. If richer countries have excess supplies or resources, they should direct them to bring up the global percentage of vaccination.

This move would prevent new, worse variants from springing up in the least-vaccinated places.

Does this mean that healthy people will not need third doses?

Moderna has been found to be 93% effective, six months after the second dose. However, Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel, said that the team “recognize that the Delta variant is a significant new threat so we must remain vigilant.”

Speaking to CNBC in April, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla took a different stance and continued to emphasise that vaccination depends on variants.

He commented: “A likely scenario is that there will be likely a need for a third dose, somewhere between six and 12 months and then from there, there will be an annual revaccination, but all of that needs to be confirmed.

“And again, the variants will play a key role.”

Dr Janet Woodcock at the FDA further commented: “As we’ve previously stated, other individuals who are fully vaccinated are adequately protected and do not need an additional dose of COVID-19 vaccine at this time.”

However, countries like the UK seem to be going ahead with third doses. If there is access to vaccine supply, it seems likely that a country will proceed with booster shots.


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