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Editorial: The vaccines work. The call for booster shots doesn’t change that

President Biden receives a third dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at the White House
President Biden receives a third dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine in the South Court Auditorium of the White House on Sept. 27.
(Getty Images)

As President Biden bared his arm Monday for his federally approved booster COVID-19 shot in front of reporters and cameras, he made a point that many corners of the nation should heed.

The booster shots are important, he said, “but the most important thing we need to do is get more people vaccinated.”

That’s exactly right. At this point, only two-thirds of eligible Americans are fully vaccinated, and when you add in all the children younger than 12 who aren’t yet approved for their shots, that’s a lot of unvaccinated people.

The evidence for a booster shot is still borderline at this point, though an advisory panel for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended giving the extra vaccination to older Americans and those with underlying health conditions. But COVID-19 has become a pandemic of the unvaccinated. The most effective way to keep hospitals from being overwhelmed and to prevent breakthrough infections among the vaccinated is to inoculate nearly every American.

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The kerfuffle over a third shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has only solidified the resolve among those who will not consider getting vaccinated. Look at how the leaders keep changing their minds, they are saying on social media and in online comments. Biden clearly wanted boosters for all. The CDC panel said they were a wise idea only for the medically vulnerable and people over 65.

It didn’t help that on Friday, the CDC overrode its own advisory panel and decided that the booster should be made available to essential workers as well. A lot of Americans want that third shot, but not everyone needs one.

It’s true that we don’t know exactly how long the vaccines remain effective, and there is one study — though more research is needed — showing that the Moderna vaccine has better holding power than Pfizer’s. We’re not sure precisely how helpful the booster will be or for how long, though there is some evidence that it helps and no reason to think it will cause any harm. The public is getting a close-up view of how science works, how it attempts to resolve the inevitable uncertainties — and all of this is happening in real time, as scientists run in tandem with a still-unfolding pandemic.

Still, vaccine doubters are simply wrong when they say the very question of needing boosters shows the vaccine is unproven medicine. Certain aspects of the science are startlingly clear, especially when you consider the real-life data: People living in low-vaccination states are four times as likely to be hospitalized or die of COVID-19 than those in high-vaccination states. (California is in the second category and now has the lowest transmission rate in the country.)

Painful as the height of the pandemic was, it’s worth remembering those days and how different our lives are now. Sure, we need to bring back the masks indoors and take other simple precautions. But those who have been inoculated go shopping, visit loved ones, head to a museum and see the kids off to school with very little fear of infection. This was made possible by vaccines that have felt almost miraculous in their safety and effectiveness.

A third shot for those who are medically vulnerable? Sure. But better yet, unvaccinated Americans need to look around, see how far we’ve come during this pandemic and then be willing to take this nation the next step toward health by offering up their arms.


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