The data problem underlying booster shot confusion

Why has the booster shot decision-making process been so confusing? Why don’t the experts agree on whether booster shots are necessary, or on who should get these extra shots? From my (data journalist’s) perspective, the booster shot confusion largely stems from a lack of data on breakthrough cases.

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Boosters for the vulnerable: FAQs following the FDA advisory meeting

This past Friday, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’s vaccine advisory committee voted to recommend booster shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for all Americans over age 65 and those who are particularly vulnerable to the virus, due to their health conditions and/or work environments. This was a notable recommendation because it went against the FDA’s ask: booster shots for everyone over the age of 16. Let’s walk through the data behind this decision.

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U.S. moves to approve booster shots despite minimal evidence

This week, the federal government announced that the U.S. intends to provide third vaccine doses to all Americans who received the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. This booster shot distribution will start in September, with adults becoming eligible once they hit eight months after their second shot. Many epidemiologists, vaccine experts, global health experts, and other scientists have criticized the decision.

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Breakthrough case reporting: Once again, outside researchers do the CDC’s job

Now, Delta is causing the vast majority of cases—and the CDC still isn’t reporting on non-severe breakthroughs. As a result, entities outside the federal government are once again compiling data from states in order to fill in gaps left by the national public health agency. On Friday, both Bloomberg and NBC published breakthrough case analyses.

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Unpacking Delta numbers from this week’s headlines

It’s no surprise that Delta (B.1.617.2) is bad news. From the moment it was identified in India, this variant has been linked to rapid transmission and rapid case rises, even in areas where the vaccination rates are high. This week, however, the CDC’s changed mask guidance—combined with new reports on breakthrough cases associated with Delta—has triggered widespread conversation about precisely how much damage this variant can do.

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Moderna for the middle children

Good news for kids hoping for jabs in arms: Moderna has announced promising results for its trial in adolescent-aged children. In around 4,000 adolescents, the vaccine proved to be 94.1% effective in preventing disease. No cases in the vaccinated group were found two weeks after the second shot, while 4 cases were found in the unvaccinated control group.

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