New evidence is showing that the protection the COVID-19 vaccines provide may be declining as the Delta variant continues to spread rapidly.
BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin told the Wall Street Journal that people who were fully vaccinated in January with the Pfizer shot are seeing immunity levels start to drop seven months later.
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However, even as antibodies are waning, Sahin said most vaccine recipients will remain protected against severe disease and might not yet need a third dose.
Sahin made the comments after data emerged from Israel suggesting that Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine has become less effective in preventing infection brought on by the Delta variant in recent weeks. The country’s Health Ministry issued a report stating the shot's effectiveness in preventing infection had dropped to 39% between June 20 and July 17 -- down from an earlier estimate of 64%. The report noted, however, that the vaccine was still 91% effective against severe disease.
The preliminary findings also suggest that people who were vaccinated in January were three times more likely to get infected than those who were vaccinated in May, according to the report.
While Sahin admitted the vaccine protection against the new variant is considerably lower, he said the data shows the two-dose vaccine is still highly effective in preventing people from getting seriously sick -- which is exactly the vaccine's intention, to dramatically reduce severe illness and death.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, said Sunday that government experts are reviewing early data as they consider whether to recommend that vaccinated individuals get booster shots. He said the shots may be suggested for people with suppressed immune systems who have been vaccinated, like organ transplant and cancer patients.
More than 163 million people, or 49% of the total U.S. population, are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As of July 22, COVID-19 cases are on the rise in nearly 90% of the U.S., according to CDC data, with 35% of U.S. counties experiencing high levels of community transmission. Outbreaks are happening in parts of the country that have low vaccination coverage.
The CDC says an increase in cases and hospitalizations not only puts more strain on health care resources, but also creates more opportunities for the virus to mutate, which could lead to the emergence of new variants. Variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 are now responsible for all cases in the U.S., according to the CDC.