Health experts have warned that the U.S. decision to roll out new Covid boosters without clinical testing on humans risks denting public trust and increasing hesitancy about vaccines. The Financial Times has more.
The Joe Biden administration is using the bivalent boosters, which contain the original Covid strain and the genetic code of the Omicron sub-variants BA4 and BA5, to vaccinate more Americans against the virus.
It has bought 171 million doses of the BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna boosters for $5 billion and fast-tracked their authorisation before human trials are complete, hoping that they provide better protection against the dominant variants than existing Covid vaccines.
As doses began arriving at pharmacists for distribution this week US officials said the rollout marked an “important milestone”. In the future people would probably only require annual boosters just as they take a yearly influenza jab, they said.
But several health experts note that the boosters have yielded only limited data from a small number of tests on mice. They say there is no evidence that they provide better protection against infection or severe disease than existing jabs.
“Without the data and getting a human response in at least a limited number of people you just set it up for the anti-vaxxers, anti-science [people],” said Eric Topol, founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute.
“There are already groups calling it the mouse vaccine… We already have a trust problem in this country and we don’t need to make it worse,” he said.
The U.S. approach diverges with that of the EU, where regulators have said they want clinical data before authorising the latest generation of bivalent boosters.
Last month the UK became the first country to approve a bivalent booster. But it waited for clinical data to greenlight a shot targeting the original Covid strain and the BA1 sub-variant, which has since been superseded by BA4/BA5.
Experts say vaccine hesitancy is just one of several challenges facing the U.S. booster campaign and have urged caution in prematurely declaring victory over the virus.
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