This Friday, the CEO of Moderna, Stéphane Bancel, gave an interview to ‘Le Journal du Dimanche’ in which defended that it will be necessary to “vaccinate with a third booster dose” of their vaccine and that we will have to start with the risk groups (mainly, people who live in residences) before the summer ends. It is not an isolated statement.
A couple of months ago, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla also announced that his vaccine would “probably” need a third booster dose. “Between nine months and a year after the second one,” BioNTech co-founder Ugur Sahin estimated a little later. At the beginning of the year, Johnson & Johnson had already put to the table the idea that we might need an annual dose to fight the virus.
Namely, there is a fairly general consensus … among the pharmaceutical industry. And yet these announcements continue to be greeted with some skepticism by the scientific community. Not because they are not correct, nor because the researchers are convinced that the doses we are administering will be enough; but because while these announcements were being made, the studies that are being published suggest that immunization is “robust” for at least more than six months.
Do we really need a third dose?
Something does not quite fit. Above all, because public administrations they keep announcing contracts for future years (although with the vaccines already committed, the entire population of their respective countries would be covered by far). In other words, everything seems to indicate that the health authorities take for granted (or, at least, are preparing) to a scenario in which more vaccines will be needed. Either because the new variants exceed the current ones or because they lose effectiveness, the agreements continue to be closed.
They keep closing despite missing data. In fact, if we look at current vaccines, only the Johnson & Johnson vaccine had a true two-dose type III trial underway. That is, one more than what (very conveniently commercially) was theoretically necessary. In fact, there is no shortage of scientists who believe that this shows that in Janssen they already assumed that the “single dose” thing was something more tricky than we have been led to believe.
It is true that Pfizer is running a small trial of 144 people to study the effects of the third dose and that the emergence of new variants is repeatedly testing the potency of vaccines, but today (with data in the hand) we do not know if it will be necessary to vaccinate a third time. Moreover, many of the results that are published call for tranquility.
Is that precisely what draws the attention of the debate: that press releases go faster than data. And as we have seen throughout this pandemic, that is not a good idea. In this sense, the health authorities have been well preparing for any scenario. However, the matter should not be simplified.
These days, with the example of the second dose of Astra-Zeneca in Spain, we have seen how complex these decisions are and how health systems and regulatory agencies can publicly and conspicuously defend different positions by clinging to different data. It will also happen with the third dose (or with the annual vaccination), it will happen live and it will force us to make decisions in very complex social, economic and health scenarios. The key today is that the previous phrase is conjugated in the future: it is still too early to pay attention to the press releases.
Picture | Mufid Majnun