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Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Preliminary Israeli data shows that coronavirus booster shots quickly spike a person's protection against both severe disease and infection, suggesting that the additional shots could help blunt the virus' spread in the U.S. — although it's very unclear how much.

Why it matters: The Biden administration has said that the main rationale for its booster push is to stay ahead of any waning of the vaccines' effectiveness against severe disease. But slowing the spread of the Delta variant would be a welcome bonus.

Driving the news: A preprint study recently released by Israeli researchers found that, in the real world, adults who received a third Pfizer shot saw their risk of confirmed infection drop by 11.4-fold after 12 days or more, and their risk of severe disease drop by more than 10-fold.

  • Israel was the first nation in the world to offer booster shots to its population, beginning with older adults.
  • The study included more than a million people who were 60 or older, and the authors argue that it "demonstrates the effectiveness of a third vaccine dose in both reducing transmission and severe disease."
  • More data is needed to confirm the study's results, which have not yet been peer-reviewed, experts cautioned. One particular limitation of this study is that people who receive a booster may be more risk-averse to begin with.

What they're saying: “The main takeaway message from Israel is there’s a short-term positive effect of boosts on both infection and severe disease," said a senior Biden administration official, adding that the Israeli government recently briefed members of the president's coronavirus team on their data.

  • “I never thought of vaccines as short-term. This changes that paradigm. Again, the jury is out, but Israel is making that case," the official added.

Yes, but: Everyone getting a booster shot is, by definition, vaccinated. The U.S. doesn't have good data on how many cases are occurring among vaccinated Americans, but most cases appear to be among unvaccinated people.

  • Without knowing what contribution the vaccinated are currently making to the spread of the virus or the U.S. caseload, it's impossible to know how much each could be reduced by giving those people a booster shot.
  • Giving a first round of shots to the unvaccinated would be a much more effective way of limiting spread. But ineligible children make up a large chunk of this population, along with vaccine-resistant adults who, thus far, have been unpersuadable.

The bottom line: The U.S. may start offering booster shots to members of the general population in a few weeks. Data like this, despite its limitations, may be our best window — at least for now — into what the effect of the U.S. effort could be.

Go deeper

12 hours ago - Health

Study: Pandemic cut U.S. life expectancy by more than 9 million years

Expand chart
Data: Annals of Internal Medicine; Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

The pandemic slashed U.S. life expectancy by more than 9 million years, with Black and Hispanic Americans losing more than twice as many years per capita compared to white Americans, according to research published Monday in Annals of Internal Medicine.

Why it matters: The data show that despite reports of older and more vulnerable populations assuming many of the deaths, young people with above-average life expectancies, including Black and Hispanic communities, were not spared.

21 hours ago - World

Biden to push vaccine-sharing at UN, but boosters at home

Expand chart
Data: Our World in Data; Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

President Biden will convene world leaders on Wednesday on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly to push them to do more to end the pandemic — though he's also facing criticism for prioritizing boosters at home.

Why it matters: There is still no functional plan in place to vaccinate the world, and past summits of this sort have flopped. The White House hopes that this virtual gathering will produce ambitious promises, accountability measures to track progress, and ultimately help achieve a 70% global vaccination rate this time next year.

20 hours ago - Health

U.S. COVID death toll surpasses 1918 flu fatalities

White flags are seen on the National Mall on Sept. 18, honoring Americans who have lost their lives to COVID-19 epidemic. Photo: Chen Mengtong/China News Service via Getty Images

The recorded number COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. has now surpassed the known number of fatalities from the 1918 flu pandemic.

The big picture: The U.S. has now marked more than 676,000 deaths from the coronavirus, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the 1918 pandemic killed about about 675,000 people.