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One booster, two boosters, three boosters, four, five boosters, six boosters: how many more?

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The UK conducted a highly successful vaccination programme in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, with 47.29 million (69.33% of the total population) people in the UK fully vaccinated on 28th December. As of the 27th December, 32,696,064 people had received their third dose ‘booster’ vaccination. While there is a strong argument that the booster programme works in significantly reducing hospitalisations, and consequently preventing the NHS from becoming overwhelmed, there is growing concern over the possibility of a never-ending string of Covid-19 booster vaccinations year on year. 

Whilst a proportion of people feel the peak of the pandemic is in the rear-view mirror and banging pots and pans outside our homes on a Thursday night is a faded memory of the past; others are trying to understand what the ‘new normal’ really means. Will masks forever be an integrated presence in society? Will vaccine passports become embedded in the law just as a driving license is? Will the population be obliged to ‘get boosted’ every year? Certainly, as a nation our perspectives were fundamentally shifted during lockdown periods, where a long overdue respect for the NHS was reborn at the forefront of the average person’s conscience. In contrast to the pre-pandemic days when people would sprint through day-to-day life, rarely looking up from their phone, the threat of Covid forced the population to consider how every action they took might impact others. In this view, held by the majority, “if you’re not vaccinated and you’re eligible, you’re not just irresponsible, you’re an idiot”, as Tony Blair put it in an interview with Times Radio.

But, in order to have a debate that captures the full picture, one must be able to argue the other sides’ points just as well as they could. Moving past the name-calling, someone who holds apprehension over their hand being forced to accept booster after booster in order to access their full civil liberties is not only reasonable, but entirely within their own right. One of the main arguments which those who refrain from taking up booster vaccinations propose is their anxiety over the fast-tracked creation of booster vaccinations. Where the previously fastest ‘Mumps’ vaccine to be created on record took 4 years, objectors to the Covid-19 booster have concerns over the safety, reliability, and effectiveness of a vaccine which was rolled out within a year of the disease it protects against, being detected. 

But, new emerging data including a report by Imperial College London suggests that immunity after a booster vaccination will continue to diminish, means the thought of a fourth vaccination especially for younger people, is becoming increasingly questionable. For Israel, the next stage of the vaccination process is already in motion, with tests underway for the second booster jab. Of course, protection after a booster vaccination is higher than without any at all, however emerging data is beginning to show that the protection given through booster vaccinations declines far quicker than after the second dose of the vaccine. For those who received two Pfizer vaccinations plus a Pfizer booster, protection against infection plummeted from 70% to 45% in just 10 weeks. 

Moving forward, there is a darker side to the booster programme which is evident when considering the social taboo attached to it. Compare it to the flu vaccination, for example: people choose to, or choose not to, receive the flu vaccination every winter. Admittedly, there has not been a flu pandemic since the Spanish flu in 1918 to 1920, which claimed 50 million lives. However, we must be acutely aware of the curbing of civil liberties through social and political pressure to receive booster vaccines, and the danger of it. An obligated standard level of protection through the first and second doses is of course crucial, and widely accepted for preventing hospitalisations and thus deaths. However, the modification of this into an obligated yearly ‘boost’ will inevitably be met with tension. Further, the quality of the data used to guide policy-makers must be of the highest, and most factual standard. JP Morgan looked at a study released by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine on 11th December, which assumed that the Omicron variant was just as deadly as the Delta variant, which had previously been dominant. JP Morgan clarified for its clients that bed occupancy for Covid patients would constitute 33% of that seen by January 2021.

To say we remain in unchartered waters would be fair in a sense. But, the government, and indeed the guidance from SAGE does seem worryingly unprepared for the advance of the Omicron variant considering the increasing familiarity we have built with Covid-19 over the past two years. A good New Year’s resolution for the public would be to keep an eye on the data, and allow that to guide their opinions, rather than what is spoon-fed by the mainstream media. Whether we enter a cycle of booster vaccinations or not, it is after all, a personal choice. 

Sources:

https://ourworldindata.org/covid-vaccinations?country=~GBR

https://www.lshtm.ac.uk/newsevents/news/2021/modelling-potential-impact-omicron-england

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1041593/Vaccine-surveillance-report-week-50.pdf

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