By Elisabeth Rosenthal
The drugmaker Pfizer recently announced that vaccinated people are likely to need a booster shot to be effectively protected against new variants of Covid-19 and that the company would apply for Food and Drug Administration emergency use authorization for the shot. Top government health officials immediately and emphatically announced that the booster isn’t needed right now — and held firm to that position even after Pfizer’s top scientist made his case and shared preliminary data with them last week.
This has led to confusion. Should the nearly 60 percent of adult Americans who have been fully vaccinated seek out a booster or not? Is the protection that has allowed them to see loved ones and go out to dinner fading?
Ultimately, the question of whether a booster is needed is unlikely to determine the F.D.A.’s decision. If recent history is predictive, booster shots will be here before long. That’s thanks to the outdated, 60-year-old basic standard that the F.D.A. uses to authorize medicines for sale: Is a new drug “safe and effective”?
The F.D.A., using that standard, will very likely have to authorize Pfizer’s booster for emergency use, as it did the company’s prior Covid-19 shot. The booster is likely to be safe — hundreds of millions have taken the earlier shots — and Pfizer reported that it dramatically increases a vaccinated person’s antibodies against SARS-CoV-2. From that perspective, it may also be considered very effective.