Moderna CEO pushes for second COVID-19 booster shot, but doctors aren’t yet convinced it’s necessary

Pharmaceutical giant Moderna announced that people may need a second COVID-19 vaccine booster shot while health officials continue to explore the need for further shots. 

Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel made the announcement during a Goldman Sachs-organized healthcare conference Thursday. 

“I still believe we’re going to need boosters in the fall of ’22 and forward,” Bancel said.   

Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel attends 2019 Forbes Healthcare Summit at the Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City. (Photo by Steven Ferdman/Getty Images)

The announcement follows data from Israel that noted a fourth COVID-19 booster produced a five-fold increase in antibodies just one week after administering the shot. Bancel said the company had started working on a vaccine tailored to the omicron variant, but any such shot would not be available in the next few months, Reuters reported. 

But with first boosters only just administered to most eligible adults, data remains light on the actual efficacy or loss of efficacy of the shots, and the Israel study only noted an increase in antibodies and did not say anything about efficacy. 

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Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in a statement noted that the preliminary results of the study indicated “a very high likelihood” that a second booster will provide the necessary increased protection from omicron, which has created a spike in new cases that last week pushed the U.S. to a new global record of over 1 million new cases in one day.

Israel has taken the data as an indication that second boosters will prove necessary. 

Covid-19 has slammed hospitals and stretched healthcare systems. A Covid-19 ward at King’s College Hospital in London. (Photo: Victoria Jones/Associated Press)

Covid-19 has slammed hospitals and stretched healthcare systems. A Covid-19 ward at King’s College Hospital in London. (Photo: Victoria Jones/Associated Press)

But some researchers have considered that repeat doses of the same vaccine could dampen the body’s immune response, The Washington Post reported. Other experts questioned the wisdom in rushing yet another shot when some people have yet to receive a single shot at all. 

“We can’t vaccinate the planet every four to six months,” Andrew Pollard, chairman of Britain’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization, said in an interview with The Telegraph. “It’s not sustainable or affordable. In the future, we need to target the vulnerable.”

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Hagai Levine, an epidemiologist at Hebrew University and chairman of the Israeli Association of Public Health Physicians, cautioned that the rise in antibodies so soon after administering a first booster may prove unnecessary. 

“It’s kind of the right answer to the wrong question,” Levine said. 

A health worker administers a dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in Bangkok, Thailand on Nov. 17, 2021. Caseloads of omicron have remained relatively low in many countries in Asia. For now, many remain insulated from the worst, although the next few months will remain critical.

A health worker administers a dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in Bangkok, Thailand on Nov. 17, 2021. Caseloads of omicron have remained relatively low in many countries in Asia. For now, many remain insulated from the worst, although the next few months will remain critical.
(AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

University of California/San Francisco’s Infectious Disease associate division chief, Dr. Monica Gandhi, joined the chorus of skeptics who say that repeat vaccinations would not produce the right type of protections, saying that it “trains your immune system wrong.” 

“It doesn’t train your immune system to recognize a variant,” Ghandi told ABC 7. “It trains your immune system to recognize the old ancestral strain that the shots are made of. That concept is the ‘original antigenic sin,’ is what they call it, is what immunologists are expressing concern of.” 

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“If we boost, let’s boost with a better vaccine, not the one against the original strain of the virus that emerged,” she argued. 

She also remained hesitant over a push for more vaccines from a pharmaceutical company rather than health officials. 

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“I think it’s hard to have a CEO dictate our policy and companies who stand and make money for it,” Gandhi said.

During its third-quarter earnings results report, Moderna said commercial booster market sales could be up to $2 billion in the United States in 2022.

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