Opinion

Berkeley and Wider U.S. Must Prioritize Vaccine Distribution Over Booster Shots

In spite of the resources of the United States, 673,000 people have died in the US due to COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic.  While over half of the US population is vaccinated, The New York Times vaccine tracker shows that many countries, including most developing countries, have less than 10 percent of their population vaccinated. Low vaccination rates not only contribute to higher death rates but also contribute to the development of COVID-19 variants. 

In recent weeks, certain vaccination sites have begun offering booster shots to immunocompromised residents in an attempt to limit the spread of the coronavirus, and many other citizens are also eager to receive the shots. Leading scientists around the world, as well as the World Health Organization (WHO), agree that the best way to end the pandemic is to vaccinate as many people as possible. However, in order to do this, we must focus on distributing vaccines to countries in need before we begin to provide booster shots to non-immunocompromised US residents. 

With the most recent COVID-19 surge and questions about waning immunity increasing risk among those already vaccinated, the question of how urgently we need booster shots arises. According to Doctor Nora Garcia-Zepeda, chief of pediatrics at the new Kaiser Permanente in Berkeley, boosters make the vaccine more effective and provide more robust protection against COVID-19, but she added that with this virus, we are in uncharted territory, leaving us with many unknown answers about booster shots. 

On December 11, 2020, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for anyone 16 and older. Starting with healthcare workers and those at most risk, more and more people received vaccines. Starting May 11, 2021, the FDA expanded EUA for adolescents 12 to 15 years of age. With various vaccine sites around Berkeley, the city has been able to vaccinate 73 percent of the population, and is beginning to administer booster shots to the immunocompromised.  

This summer has seen COVID-19 cases in countries in Africa such as Namibia, South Africa, Tunisia, Uganda, and Zambia increasing faster than past surges. In Africa, vaccination rates have been slow with an average of 25 vaccine doses per 100 people. As the COVID-19 cases are starting to decrease in Africa and other parts of the world,  there are concerns over additional surges and variants unless more people become vaccinated. While some African countries such as Mauritius and Seychelles have higher vaccination rates since they have populations in the upper-middle or high-income brackets, poorer countries such as South Africa continue to need vaccinations. Many feel that the US and other wealthy countries should assist these countries through donating vaccines in order to help limit the development of variants, but if we begin to offer booster shots in the US, this may not be an option. 

Many countries, such as China, Russia, and the United Arab Emirates, alongside WHO, have already begun donating vaccines. With the millions of vaccines that the United States is holding onto, many of which are currently simply expiring, we should be helping those who are in need. In the end, focusing on the distribution of vaccines before providing booster shots won’t only help developing countries, but will also help lessen the spread of new variants, further protecting all of us.

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