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Local Epidemiologists Question Need For 'Booster Shots' As Pfizer Applies For FDA Approval

BOSTON (CBS) - Pfizer's Dr. Mikael Dolsten announced the company is planning to apply for Emergency Use Authorization from the FDA for a third 'booster' COVID-19 shot in adults, but local epidemiologists say it's too soon to tell if it's necessary.

Pfizer plans to apply for authorization from the FDA in August, weeks to months before its clinical trial data about the booster shots will be available.

The company says early studies show a booster shot can significantly increase a person's antibody levels.

"But antibody levels are not clinical trial data and they are not efficacy data," explained Tufts Medical Center epidemiologist Shira Doron. "And we do not have the evidence right now to tell us that we need third shots."

"Getting a third shot increases your antibody levels. That is reassuring," explained Dr. Mark Siedner of Mass General. "But you don't necessarily need higher antibody levels to protect yourself from this disease."

The push for a booster shot from Pfizer -- one that would be administered 6 to 12 months after your second shot -- comes as the Delta variant of COVID-19 becomes the dominant strain in the U.S., taking over pockets of the country with low vaccination rates.

"Low vaccination rates in these counties coupled with high case rates and lax mitigation policies that do not protect those who are unvaccinated from disease will certainly and sadly lead to more unnecessary suffering hospitalization and potential death," CDC Director Rochelle Walensky explained in a briefing Thursday.

Still, local epidemiologists say they'll need to see harder data before confirming a booster shot is needed. In the meantime, they say the greatest protection against the Delta variant is being fully vaccinated through our existing vaccine system.

It's unclear if FDA approval would mean an immediate rollout of booster shots, but Dr. Doron emphasized that in her opinion, the U.S. should focus on international vaccinations first at this point. "I actually think it would be really not ethical at this point to go around with a third dose for the U.S. population and the rest of the world is suffering the way that they are," she said.

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