News reports say the Biden administration is currently weighing a plan that would allow all adults to receive a second Covid-19 booster, citing concerns from White House chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci about the spike in hospitalizations “fueled by the extremely contagious omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5.”
Currently second booster shots are only offered to individuals over the age of 50.
Meanwhile, discussion of a potential fifth shot is already underway. During a recent television appearance, CNN host Don Lemon asked CNN medical analyst Jonathan Reiner if such a scenario is likely.
LEMON: "That was my next question, I’m giving away my age because I’ve already had four shots, I've had two boosters, so I'm over 50."
REINER: "Me too."
LEMON: "So are we going to get a fifth shot? We're going to have to have a fifth shot?"
REINER: "Yeah, probably.
The discussions highlight certain realities of Covid immunization.
“Immunity wanes,” Fauci said during a White House briefing on Tuesday, “whether that’s immunity following infection or immunity following vaccine.”
Natural Immunity vs Vaccination
While it’s true that immunization wanes, new scientific research from The New England Journal of Medicine suggests natural immunity lasts longer than immunity acquired from vaccines.
The study, a case–control analysis based on data from Qatar collected from December 23, 2021 through February 21, 2022, involved millions of people, including 1,306,862 who received at least two doses of the Pfizer vaccine (BNT162b2) and 893,671 people who received at least two doses of the Moderna vaccine (mRNA-1273), as well unvaccinated individuals.
The results of the study are a mixed bag for the vaccines.
The best news is that “any form of previous immunity, whether induced by previous infection or vaccination, is associated with strong and durable protection against Covid-19–related hospitalization and death.” (In other words, both vaccines and natural immunity reduce the risk of hospitalization or death from Covid.)
Also good news is that both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines “enhanced protection among persons who had had a previous infection.”
“The combination of prior, full vaccination and prior infection was maximally protective,” researchers said in a summary of the study’s findings released last monthby the Weill Cornell Medicine Newsroom. “Individuals with prior infection and three doses of either mRNA vaccine were, overall, nearly 80 percent protected from symptomatic infection during the omicron wave.”
But the study also found that two doses of vaccines offered “negligible” protection against Omicron infection.
“A key finding was that a history of vaccination with the standard two doses of either the Pfizer or Moderna mRNA vaccine, but no history of prior infection, brought no significant protection against symptomatic omicron infection,” researchers said.
In regards to the Pfizer vaccine, three shots offered considerably more protection. But the protection was still lower than natural immunity, which offered stronger and more sustained protection from infection than vaccination. (Researchers noted that “people with a prior-variant infection were moderately protected from omicron with little decline in protection even a year after their prior infection.”)