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The barrage of precautionary COVID missives continues, and with a familiar “follow-the-money” twist. The CEOs of both Pfizer and Moderna say that booster shots are likely to be needed a year after initial administration of their COVID vaccines, and almost certainly every year thereafter. Of course, this message is for those who felt compelled to be vaccinated in the first place, whether out of concern for their own health, high-minded community spirit, fear of social ostracism, or fear of possible vaccine passport requirements. It’s probably also intended for those who acquired immunity through infection.

There are reasons to believe, however, that such a booster is unnecessary. This case was made a few days ago in a series of tweets by Dr. Monica Ghandi, an infectious disease expert and Professor of Medicine at UCSF. Ghandi says immunity from an infection or a vaccine can be expected to last much longer than a year, despite the diminished presence of antibodies. That’s because the immune system relies on other mechanisms to signal and produce new antibodies against specific pathogens when called upon.

So-called B cells actually produce antibodies. Another cell-type known as T cells act to signal or instruct B cells to do so, but so-called “killer” T cells destroy cells in the body that have already been infected. Dr. Ghandi’s point is that both B and T cells tend to have very long memories and are capable of conferring immunity for many years.

While our experience with COVID-19 is short, long-lasting immunity has been proven against measles for up to 34 years, and for other SARS-type viruses for at least 17 years. Dr. Ghandi links to research showing that survivors of the 1918 flu pandemic were found to have active B cells against the virus 90 years later! The COVID vaccines cause the body to produce both B and T cells, and the T cells are protective against COVID variants.

A last point made by Dr. Ghandi is intended to dispel doubts some might harbor due to the relatively ineffectual nature of annual flu vaccines. The flu mutates much more aggressively than COVID, so the design of each year’s flu vaccine involves a limited and uncertain choice among recent strains. COVID mutates, but in a more stable way, so that vaccines and adaptive immunity tend to retain their effectiveness.

While I’m sure the pharmaceutical companies believe in the benefits of their vaccines, there are undoubtedly other motives behind the push for boosters. There is money to be made, and much of that money will be paid by governments eager to jump on the precautionary bandwagon, and who are likely to be very insensitive to price. In fact, the vaccine producers might well have encouraged those pushing vaccine passports to include annual booster requirements. This would be another unwelcome imposition. The very discussion of boosters gives government officials more running room for other draconian but ultimately ineffective mandates on behavior. And the booster recommendation gives additional cover to public health “experts” who refuse to acknowledge real tradeoffs between the stringency of non-pharmaceutical interventions, economic well being, and other dimensions of public health.