As recently as last week, many public health experts were fiercely opposed to the Biden administration’s campaign to offer booster shots of the coronavirus vaccines to all American adults.
But the Omicron variant is starting to change all that.
Scientists do not yet know with any certainty whether the virus is easier to spread or less vulnerable to the body’s immune response. But with dozens of new mutations, the variant seems likely to evade the protection from vaccines to some significant degree.
Many of the experts who were opposed to boosters now believe that the shots may offer the best defense against the new variant. The extra doses may slow the spread, at least, buying time for vaccine makers to develop an Omicron-specific formulation, if needed.
“Based on what we know about the potential for immune evasion, I would err on the side of giving the booster,” said Dr. Celine Gounder, an infectious disease specialist at Bellevue Hospital Center who had opposed the Biden administration’s boosters-for-all push.
The administration isn’t waiting for scientific consensus. Alarmed by the preliminary reports about Omicron, officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Monday that all American adults should receive booster shots.
But greater support for boosters among scientists may eventually complicate efforts to deliver limited supplies of the coronavirus vaccines to poor countries. The World Health Organization has said for months that the clamor for extra doses in rich countries was robbing poorer nations of the first doses they desperately need. The agency has not changed that position.
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