Aaand here we go: Australia’s vaccine advisory body is jumping on the “third booster shot” bandwagon. That’s before the rollout of the first shots has even finished.
Why are they doing this, and why did scientists within America’s FDA quit in protest at a similar proposal? The news has been seized on by opponents of the vaccines as proof positive of some nefarious big pharma/big government plot, but the real reasons are both far less conspiratorial and far more telling.
Firstly, why even talk of a third booster? Because of fears of waning efficacy. This is not something unique to the covid vaccines: it happens with the annual flu vax, too. Viruses like the flu and covid evolve very rapidly (hence all those “variants” we endlessly hear about). The annual flu vax is essentially designed for last flu season’s strain. It’ll still be effective against next season’s, but the longer the virus has to evolve away from last year’s strain, the less effective it will be. This is why getting your flu vax too early means that it won’t be as effective (but it’ll still protect you from the worst onslaught of the virus if you get it).
Talk of a third covid booster is a tacit admission that pushing the rollout “hard and early”, while the pandemic is still in swing, means that those early adopters will have less protection as the pandemic rolls on. That those early adopters were the most vulnerable to covid in the first place is what is causing authorities to hit the “third booster” panic button.
But it was talk at the FDA — led by the notorious Dr Fauci — of rolling out, even mandating, third shots for everybody, not just most-at-risk over 65s, that led to heated debate and resignations.
Because the simple fact is that there just aren’t enough vaccines to go around. Forcing all Americans to have a third, mostly unnecessary, booster, while most people in the poorest parts of the world can’t even get their first shots, struck some doctors as frankly immoral.
Several countries with high rates of vaccination are already planning COVID-19 booster shots, but some scientists and global health officials believe vaccine supplies should be shared across the world first.
While some Americans may receive a third dose of Pfizer this month, 90 per cent of the entire population of the African continent is yet to receive one shot of vaccine.
Now, it might be argued that America has a duty to protect Americans first. This is not an unreasonable argument: but if everyone was that selfish, most countries, with no vaccine manufacturing capability, would be stuffed. Where would New Zealand be, if Denmark hadn’t handed over their unwanted vaccines?
More importantly, vaccine altruism has its own benefits.
Experts said if rich countries only protected themselves, ultimately the world would struggle to contain COVID-19.
There’s no question that the global vaccine programme is heavily unbalanced. Of the near 6 billion doses administered so far, three-quarters have been in just 10 countries. 60 per cent of people in wealthy countries have had at least one dose, but only 3 per cent in poor countries. America has a glut of vaccines: enough to give every American five shots (don’t give Fauci ideas).
So when Africa is so far behind in the global vaccination race, how can some countries start another lap and administer booster shots?
That is a debate that has been playing out inside the White House […]
Dr Fauci wanted booster shots to be on offer to all Americans over 16 from this week, but the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) only approved an extra jab for those over 65.
Two influential scientists with the FDA recently resigned from their positions amid disagreements with the White House over the need for boosters.
Philip Krause and Marion Gruber later published a scathing critique in academic journal the Lancet, arguing that scientific evidence does not yet justify giving most people third shots.
Krause and Gruber argue that the relatively small gain from giving already-vaccinated people a third shot is vastly outweighed by the benefit to people who are struggling to get a shot at all.
Right now, African countries are running low on vaccine supply and many have already run out.
“There is an urgent crisis of vaccine famine on the continent,” [African CDC director Dr John Nkengasong] said.
“You see long lines of people, meandering and winding, in sports stadiums waiting to be vaccinated, but there are no vaccines there.”
The situation is made worse by long delays. Covid vaccines with a short shelf life sometimes have to be thrown away. Malawi recently had to destroy 19,000 doses.
But there may be a silver lining for Africa yet: another opportunity for Africa to move away from charity to developing its own capabilities.
“We’ve got to build Africa’s indigenous manufacturing capacity … we need to secure ourselves,” African Development Bank president Akinwumi Adesina said.
“Africa cannot outsource its health to the rest of the world.”ABC Australia
Africa has an enormous potential pool of young, relatively well-educated people. Instead of exporting them to Europe and importing charity, if Africa harbours its native talent and builds its own capabilities, the continent will surge ahead.
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