The possibility of a fourth COVID-19 shot for the general public is being weighed by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Pfizer began testing the efficacy of a fourth dose in January.
Israel and Sweden have already recommended fourth doses of a COVID vaccine for vulnerable individuals. FDA spokesperson Alison Hunt wrote in an email, that the FDA “is indeed continually looking at the emerging data on the pandemic and variants in the United States and overseas in order to evaluate the potential utility and composition of booster doses.”
The rapidly changing landscape of COVID, from new variants to the waning effectiveness of boosters, will be crucial to the FDA decision.
“As more data become available about the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines, including the use of a booster dose, we will continue to evaluate the rapidly changing science and keep the public informed,” Hunt wrote.
She added, “Any determination that additional booster doses are needed will be based on data available to the agency.”
According to a study published by the CDC, the effectiveness of the booster on the Omicron variant was 91% against hospitalizations in the two months following a third dose. However, that number fell to 78% by the fourth month.
If the FDA does authorize a fourth booster dose it will be up to the CDC to recommend who it is available to first and how the rollout will proceed.
The current COVID trend suggests that boosters and vaccinations are effective in limiting the severity of spikes and maintaining an overall downward trajectory of the virus in the United States, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Fauci said that the need for a fourth dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech or the Moderna mRNA vaccine, or a third dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, is being “monitored in real-time.” The CDC has yet to make a recommendation for a fourth dose but individuals who are immunocompromised can opt for a fourth dose.
An area of concern for public health officials in the United States is the slowing pace of those receiving a third dose of the COVID vaccine. While 65% of Americans are fully vaccinated with the initial series of jabs, only 28% of the population has received a third booster dose.
Lori Tremmel Freeman, CEO of the National Association of County and City Health Officials, warns that “As time goes on, if there is the necessity of a fourth dose, we’re already behind with people getting the third dose,” adding, “So all of a sudden, we could have a fairly large segment of the population that is not up to date on vaccines because they’re behind by two doses, potentially, and more people could get sick.”
It is believed that if a fourth dose of the COVID vaccine is needed it will be rolled out in the fall to coincide with the flu and respiratory virus season.