Yes, we should all get boosters! Eventually.

The hubbub for the past few weeks in the U.S. has been all about whether or not the government should recommend that people get booster shots for Covid-19. Conflicting messages have emerged, with some officials saying boosters will be recommended, and others saying boosters are unnecessary or premature.

Just this past Friday, an expert panel at the FDA recommended boosters for people over 65 and for immunocompromised people, but not for anyone else.

But here’s the thing: boosters obviously help to fight Covid-19. In all the objections I’ve read, I can’t find any credible scientific or medical reason not to get a booster. All else being equal, you should get a booster vaccine, probably around 6-8 months after your second shot (if you had a 2-shot vaccine).

The confusion–and the arguments–derive from that little phrase I threw in there, “all else being equal.” You see, it’s really not controversial that a booster vaccine provides better immunity against an infection. We already have boosters for other vaccines, and there’s a wealth of very strong evidence showing that they work. For the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna Covid-19 vaccines, we have some early data showing that they, too, provide an excellent boost in antibody levels, which means (almost certainly) that the recipients of the boosters have better protection against Covid-19.

Indeed, a just-published Israeli study shows that in people over 60, the risk of severe disease drops nearly 20-fold and the rate of infection drops by a factor of 11 after a booster shot. (The study only looked at people over 60 because they were the only ones who got boosters.)

So yes, boosters work. The best arguments against them, scientifically, are that we don’t yet know exactly how well they work. That’s merely because these vaccines have only existed for a short time, so of course we haven’t had time to collect much data. But all the data that we do have is positive. So I’d be willing to bet a large sum of money that the evidence in favor of boosters is only going to get stronger.

But all else is not equal. What’s not equal is access to the vaccines. In the U.S., we have an excess supply, so much that pretty much anyone can get a vaccine by simply walking into one of several national-chain pharmacies, without even making an appointment. And that includes those who want a third shot (an unauthorized booster).

Meanwhile, though, many countries still face a severe shortage of vaccines. In most of Africa, for example, only 1-2% of people have received even one dose of any vaccine. Just this week, President Biden authorized a purchase of 500 million Pfizer vaccines that the U.S. will ship to other countries, and we’re going to need more. The pandemic is a worldwide crisis, and as long as the virus is circulating widely in any country, it is a threat to everyone.

Thus the argument against boosters is not a scientific one. The argument is really about where to ship the vaccines that we have. For example, as several vaccine experts wrote in this Lancet article last week, “even if some gain can ultimately be obtained from boosting, it will not outweigh the benefits of providing initial protection to the unvaccinated.”

The only problem with that statement is the use of “even if”: we already know that boosting almost definitely provides a benefit, so they should have acknowledged that fact.

So the question about boosting really should be a different one: what should the U.S. do with its abundant vaccine supply? Should it allow people to get a booster shot, which is clearly beneficial? Or should we make sure those shots go to people who haven’t yet been vaccinated at all?

It’s perfectly reasonable to argue, as some have, that we should get first shots into people’s arms before we start administering 3rd shots. If the choice is 1st shot versus booster, then yes, we need people to get their first shot. But that doesn’t justify any statements playing down the benefits of booster shots.

And is that really the choice? Well, no. At the moment, the U.S. is wasting millions of shots per month, most of them in retail pharmacies that aren’t using their full supply. The vaccines expire quickly, and it’s simply impossible to manage the supply so that all doses are used. At a minimum, we could offer the extra doses (at the end of each day, say) as 3rd shots to anyone who wants them. The alternative is to throw them away.

So to the public health authorities who are saying “no” or “not yet” to boosters: cut it out! You know very well that boosters almost certainly work, and you also know that in a year or two, we’ll likely be recommending boosters for everyone. When that time rolls around–and it will–people will be asking, quite reasonably, why you are contradicting yourself? And you can be sure that the anti-vax crowd will queue up every quote they can find in which government officials expressed any doubt about boosters.

We saw a near-identical version of this scenario play out very early in the pandemic, only then it was over masks. In early 2020, few prominent public health officials in the U.S. made ill-advised statements that people shouldn’t wear masks. They were worried that we didn’t have an adequate supply of masks, but they knew perfectly well that masks helped prevent transmission of the virus. Even so, they made statements casting doubt on masks, thinking that this would help preserve the very limited (at that time) supply. Those statements were truly damaging, and they contributed to the toxic anti-mask movement in the U.S. today.

The same thing seems to be happening again. The public health experts speaking out against boosters are worried about the supply of vaccines. So they are making statements casting doubt on the efficacy of boosters, statements that are potentially very damaging. For example, the recent Lancet piece states that “currently available evidence does not show the need for widespread use of booster vaccination.” But in the same article they admit that widespread boosting “might ultimately be needed because of waning immunity.”

Vaccine booster shots work, and the experts know it. To fight this pandemic, we need more vaccines, including boosters. We don’t need more misinformation.