The Booster Campaign Has Been A Stupid Thing
A look at the German efficacy data, which show temporary effectiveness against symptomatic infection and severe outcome, collapsing to the same baseline after a few months.
Even according to official statistics, booster doses provide only transient protection against symptomatic infection and severe outcomes, which rapidly fades towards the same baseline as the first two vaccine doses. In low-risk demographics, booster doses are stupid; they entail substantial risk and they don’t reduce SARS-2 transmission. In at-risk demographics, boosters are also stupid, unless they’re offered in the fall to the highest-risk groups. Otherwise, you end up exchanging an unknown number of adverse reactions for very little prospect of reducing hospitalisations or mortality, since the latter are concentrated in winter infections.
These points have become clearer and clearer, as the Robert Koch Institut has continued to track booster performance against Omicron through the spring. Consider the following charts from their 28 April report. In all of them, the y-axis is “vaccine effectiveness” (as a percentage), and the x-axis is is time.
First, efficacy against symptomatic infection in kids: The green line is 5–11 year-olds with two doses (heavens preserve us); the grey line is 12–17 year-olds with 2 doses; and the dotted grey line is 12–17 year-olds with a third dose:
Everything converges towards zero. You trade all that risk of injury in a demographic for which SARS-2 is less dangerous than influenza, and all you get in return is four months of protection against one of several pathogens that cause the sniffles.
When you look at hospitalisation numbers, it’s even worse. The data is noisy, because almost no children are hospitalised, regardless of vaccination status, but the double-vaccinated never do that much better than triple-vaccinated, and by the latter half of March (week 12) there’s no appreciable difference:
Now for adults, beginning again with symptomatic infection.
Here the blue line is 18–59 year-olds with two doses; the dotted blue line is 18–59 year-olds with three doses; the orange line is 60+ year-olds with two doses; and the dotted orange line is 60+ year-olds with three doses.
Omicron really took off in January, and it destroyed whatever efficacy the booster had against catching SARS-2. By February, double- and triple-dosed were equally likely to develop symptomatic illness.
Finally, consider severe outcomes in adults, beginning with effectiveness against admission to ICU …
… and concluding with effectiveness against death:
It’s the same thing: it might help a little at first, but before long the boosted are doing no better than the double vaccinated.
That the protection afforded by dose 4 is even more transient, is suggested by this study of Israeli data, which shows a total collapse in efficacy against infection within eight weeks:
The reason we have ecstatically promoted booster campaigns, is plainly not because more injections will do anything about Omicron. It is rather because medical bureaucrats and politicians, having overpromoted the vaccines, can’t give up their faith in them. If infections are rising, it is always because we have not vaccinated enough. None of this will be news to readers of this blog, but it’s important to check in on the numbers from time to time.
I’ve had a few back-channel complaints that I’m not covering the day-to-day Corona research and statistics as much as I used to. This is not an accident; I think very hard about what to spend my five or six weekly posts on, and the truth is that SARS-2 isn’t doing much of anything right now. I’m a small blogger and I don’t set any kind of agenda, but I still think it’s important not to contribute to more saturation coverage of a non-story, where that’s already proven so destructive.
That said, it’s not clear whether we’re just in another between-season lull, or whether Corona is actually ending. If the hysteria returns and the vaccinators bring out their needles again in the fall, I’ll get back to blow-by-blow coverage. But, especially because that’s a serious possibility, I don’t want to waste the opportunity of these quieter months. Now is a good time to take a broader view of what’s happened to us; the book reviews are part of this, and I have some other ideas as well. While other themes dominate the headlines, it’s additionally important to watch for leaks and document releases, and to observe how the bureaucrats will attempt to formalise the ad hoc administrative structures erected during the pandemic. The WHO treaty on pandemic prevention and preparedness is the big story here, even if it’s hard to write about at the moment, as it remains almost wholly undetermined (at least officially). As always you can send tips on these or other matters to email@example.com.