NIH director Collins calls Israeli knowledge “spectacular”


A patient receives his booster dose of Pfizer BioNTech Coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine during an Oakland County Health Department vaccination clinic at the Southfield Pavilion on August 24, 2021 in Southfield, Michigan.

Emily Elconin | Getty Images

The director of the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Francis Collins, called the Israeli data on Covid-19 booster vaccinations “impressive” and found that the vaccinations caused a ten-fold increase in infection in people who received a third dose of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine.

Israel began giving boosters to people over 60 in late July, which gave scientists more time to study their ability to fight Covid and bolster the declining effectiveness of the initial dose series. Collins’ comments on Thursday came just a day after the Food and Drug Administration approved the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid Booster for people at high risk, including those 65 and over.

“Without tilting too much, I can say the data is really impressive, that the booster vaccination actually leads to a significant reduction in infection – e.g. That’s what we’re most concerned about, “Collins said during a discussion on Covid hosted by Bloomberg Philanthropies.

Collins added that Israeli data showed about a twelve-fold reduction in severe Covid infection as the nation began seeing more groundbreaking cases. Pfizer reported Aug. 25 that recipients of the third dose saw a three-fold increase in antibodies.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, a panel of medical authorities offering guidance to the agency, will vote Thursday on whether to support the FDA’s booster decision. The panel began a two-day series of boosters on Wednesday to give experts and the public the opportunity to hear more data before the final vote.

Vaccine makers Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are weeks away from the CDC and FDA evaluating their boosters, Collins said. Although Pfizer’s boosters are currently only available to recipients of the first two doses, Collins said the NIH is completing a “mix-and-match study” to determine the effects of giving initial doses and boosters from different manufacturers.

“It’s not a big study, but it’s enough to see if you go to a different booster than you started with, or maybe you do even better, raising your antibody levels too,” said Collins.

The CDC reports that 2.3 million people in the US have received a third dose since Aug. 13 and that nearly 55% of the total population are fully vaccinated against Covid. But false online rumors about vaccines remain a significant barrier health officials must overcome, Collins said.

“In the United States, we have 70 million people who, despite the compelling evidence of the safety and effectiveness of any of these three vaccines – all of which have been widely publicized – have not decided to roll up their sleeves,” said Collins. “And I’m afraid they are plagued by all kinds of misinformation, and some of it is, in fact, deliberate disinformation that is rampant on social media.”