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Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

As the Delta variant continues to drive a fourth wave of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S., Biden officials see a booster shot among at least some vaccinated Americans as increasingly likely.

Why it matters: Another round of shots — beginning as early as late fall — could not only boost the level of protection against the virus among the vaccinated, but also help curb its spread throughout the population.

Between the lines: The amount of neutralizing antibodies a person has following their first two doses of Pfizer and Moderna's coronavirus vaccines appears to drop over time, which is a very normal thing to happen with vaccines.

  • The outstanding scientific question has been what that means for the person's overall protection against the virus, especially because neutralizing antibodies aren't the body's only form of immunity.
  • Some Biden officials are increasingly convinced that high levels of neutralizing antibodies correlate with a higher degree of protection against illness. They worry that means that as more time passes, vaccinated people may be increasingly vulnerable to mild, moderate or even severe disease, a Biden official told Axios.

The New York Times first reported on Friday that Biden administration health officials increasingly think that vulnerable populations will need booster shots.

  • This growing consensus is "tied in part to research suggesting that the Pfizer vaccine is less effective against the coronavirus after about six months," per the NYT.
  • Vaccine manufacturers have been warning for months that some Americans could require booster shots as soon as September.

The big picture: There's currently no data suggesting that people who have received a shot — even those who were among the first to get vaccinated — are at risk of becoming severely sick if they get a breakthrough infection.

  • That doesn't mean they never will be. And recent data suggest that protection against asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic disease does decrease over time.
  • Although vaccine efficacy against severe disease seems to be holding steady among the three vaccines authorized for use in the U.S., some officials worry that may not continue to be true, the Biden official said, adding that boosters could begin as early as late fall.

Officials also believe that a booster shot may reduce the chances that a vaccinated person can transmit the virus, which would help reduce its overall prevalence in the U.S. — particularly if the Delta variant causes cases to rise as much as it's predicted to.

What we're watching: The Biden administration has purchased enough doses of vaccine to ensure that the U.S. will have enough for anyone who wants a booster to receive one.

  • The rest of the world, however, is likely to question why Americans should receive a third shot while billions of people around the globe wait for their first.

Go deeper

Updated Oct 21, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Vaccines: Pfizer booster has 95.6% efficacy, large study shows — FDA authorizes mix-and-match for booster shots — J&J expects $2.5 billion of vaccine sales this year.
  2. Health: Cases and deaths keep falling — White House unveils plan to "quickly" vaccinate kids ages 5-11 — The global coronavirus vaccine gap — Gates Foundation to send $120 million of antiviral pills to lower-income countries.
  3. Politics: Reports: Brazil leader to be accused of crimes against humanity over COVID — Puerto Rico leads U.S. vaccination rates — Hawaii invites fully vaccinated travelers to return from Nov. 1.
  4. Education: Education secretary reveals limits to Biden’s mask push on states — LA extends deadline for school employee vaccinations — Parent sues Wisconsin school district after child tests positive.
  5. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.
Oct 21, 2021 - Health

India crosses 1 billion COVID vaccinations milestone

A health worker inoculates a COVID-19 vaccine dose to a man wearing a face mask of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Beawar, India, in September. Photo: Sumit Saraswat/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced Thursday that the country's health workers have now administered more than 1 billion COVID-19 vaccines doses.

Of note: While this is a significant milestone for the country of 1.4 billion, which has been devastated by the coronavirus, only about 30% of the eligible population has been fully vaccinated against the virus, per AP. Roughly 75% have received at least one dose.

DeSantis to convene state legislature to fight COVID vaccine mandates

Photo: Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Thursday that he will convene a special session of the state legislature to combat coronavirus vaccine mandates enacted by businesses and "provide protections for employees."

Why it matters: This is the Republican governor's latest move to penalize local entities that implement mask or vaccine mandates to contain the spread of the virus.