New COVID questions arise amidst rapid spread of the delta variant

Israel's Health Ministry said Pfizer's vaccine is only 39% effective against the COVID delta variant, which raises the question about when we might be getting booster shots.

In the U.S., Israel, and other nations, Pfizer remains 88% effective against hospitalization and 91% effective from severe illness.

Dr. John Schwartzberg, a UC Berkeley Infectious Disease Expert, did not think we would be getting booster shots anytime soon.

"If we look at the data, in otherwise healthy people, there's no evidence to date that we need a booster shot. Will we have evidence in a month, two months, or three months? It's anybody's guess. It may be that the immunity lasts two years or three years," Schwartzberg said.

Under Federal pressure, Pfizer and Moderna are expanding the number of young participants, ages 5 to 11 in vaccine trials. Dr. Schwartzberg said "the word on the street" is that we may see an emergency use approval for kids in that age range "perhaps some time by early fall or winter."

In California, the governor now directs all healthcare workers, those who work in high-risk crowded settings, and all state employees, to get vaccinated or face weekly testing. However, that is not good enough for Schwartzberg. 

"The safest way to do it is to insist that everybody gets vaccinated. That will help prevent anybody working in a hospital, spreading the virus to a patient. So, I think if you want to be in the healthcare industry, you should be vaccinated," said Schwartzberg. 

Once vaccines gain full federal approval, employers will be on a more solid legal ground to require vaccinations before employees can return just as it will be for some 400 colleges mandating vaccinations for employees and students.

In the meantime, a lot of work is progressing on pills and nasal sprays to prevent COVID outright or, if exposed, prevent serious disease, hospitalization, or death. "That potentially fatal infection becomes nothing more than maybe a couple of days of a runny nose because they'll work so well," said the doctor.

Finally to those who fear vaccines, also known as anti-vaxxers, or think the shots are some sort of political plot or government power play, Schwartzberg urged them to consider this: "Not only are they putting other people at risk of getting the infection, but they're putting the world at risk of producing variants that may be resistant to the immunity we get from our vaccines." 

This means that while our vaccines work against all variants now, the longer this goes on, there is a risk of a variant escape from our current vaccines down the road.