Booster shots challenge governments during global vaccine inequality

COVID-19 was the number one cause of death for people between the ages of 35 to 54 during some months since the pandemic began last year, according to recent data. Meanwhile, as the Delta variant continues to drive infections around the world, the push for booster shots in the U.S. has raised concerns since many are still awaiting their first dose. ProPublica’s Caroline Chen joins.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Caroline Chen, who covers public health for ProPublica, joined me for more about the continuing COVID-19 risk and vaccine rates around the world.

    Caroline, one of the reasons we are having this conversation is new data that's come out that shows how significant COVID is as a cause of death, especially in people that are 35 to 54.

  • Caroline Chen:

    New data that has come out analyzing that sort of burden of mortality has shown that for 35 to 54, at some point some months in this past pandemic, COVID has been the number one cause of death.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    You know, because most of the time, or at least early on, we were worried about the elderly, we were worried about the auto immune suppressed. Is this population say, for example, in September, the 35 to 54 year olds are the bulk of these people dying because they are unvaccinated?

  • Caroline Chen:

    I would say the bulk of these people who are dying are definitely unvaccinated. And I think we have this added factor of the Delta variant and we're sort of seeing the impact here because it is so much more infectious.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    The population of concern for millions of Americans right now are their schoolchildren that are in some way shape or form back in full time school, part time school, maybe some are in Zoom school classes when those recommended doses of vaccines will be available to children.

  • Caroline Chen:

    Yeah, and Hari, as we've talked about a couple of times now, the reason why it's taken so long is because children may be getting a different dose, particularly the really young children. And so you have to go through a rigorous process to assess what is, what they call the Goldilocks dose. You know, small, smaller, so it'll be safer and have fewer reactions. But a big enough dose that it will be effective. So where we are right now is that Pfizer has submitted data to the FDA for five to 11 year olds, and I am hopeful to see the five to 11s have an option for vaccine by the end of this year.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    While Americans, some Americans still hesitate on taking a vaccine that has been available for months and months. We still see a large scale disparity on other parts of the planet, other countries that don't have either access or the ability to deploy these vaccines very quickly. And so there's this sort of ethical dilemma that's also presenting itself to Americans. Should we be getting a third shot or a booster shot before millions of people even get their first?

  • Caroline Chen:

    Yeah, I so appreciate you bringing this up because I think so many people don't even realize that there are countries that are waiting for their first shots still. And I think it's really important for us to be thinking about the impact of boosters, especially over the long term. But the people who are in the hospital today, who are being hospitalized, people who are dying are people who haven't even gotten their first shot, whether this is in the U.S. or outside of the U.S. And so I think this is a really important question for every government to be grappling with. And the consortium called COVAX, which is the W.H.O., CEPI, Gavi, a number of different alliances together are asking countries to basically give up their spot in the manufacturing production and swap. So say you're a wealthy nation, you have a shipment of Moderna vaccine coming your way. But you have abundance already. Can you swap your schedule slot with a country that's been waiting for their first doses? So I do think this is a very high level discussion. And I don't know at this point that if you as an individual citizen, sort of refuse your booster, at that point, the shipment might have already been made to your local pharmacy. Right. So that's very hard to unwind. But at this macro level, I do think global leaders need to be really thinking seriously about this picture and thinking about other countries.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    ProPublica's Caroline Chen, thanks so much.

  • Caroline Chen:

    Thank you.

Listen to this Segment