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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  • More data is needed to confirm the study's results, which have not yet been peer-reviewed, experts cautioned.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

14 hours ago - Health

FDA approves Pfizer boosters for high-risk individuals, people 65 and up

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

The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday approved Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus booster shots for people at high risk of severe COVID-19 and people 65 years and older.

Driving the news: The approval comes just days after an FDA advisory panel recommended boosters for the two groups but overwhelmingly voted against the third shots for younger Americans.

Updated 22 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Vaccines: U.S. to buy 500 million more Pfizer doses to share with the world — Fauci: Vaccine could be available for children 5–11 in "weeks" — Biden to get booster shot on camera.
  2. Health: Care for kidney disease plummeted in the pandemic — Manufacturers warn rapid test shortages are coming — Study: Pandemic cut U.S. life expectancy by more than 9 million years.
  3. Politics: Brazil's health minister tests positive during UN summit in N.Y. — Massachusetts State Police union sues over governor's vaccine mandate — Biden to push vaccine-sharing at UN, but boosters at home.
  4. Education: Education Department investigating Texas mask mandate ban — D.C. schools to require teachers, staff to receive vaccine without testing option — More schools using "test-to-stay" strategy to minimize quarantines.
  5. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.

Mormon Church to mandate masks in temples

The San Diego California Temple in La Jolla, California. Photo: RBL/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images via Getty Images

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints told its members on Wednesday that all patrons and workers will be required to wear face masks at all times while in the temple.

Why it matters: It's the Mormon Church's latest effort to encourage masking and vaccination among its over 16.6 million members around the world.