Does booster convey five times more protection, or 25 times, or 37 times?

Jan 06, 2022


9:51 PM

150 people don’t exactly make huge study, but it was enough to conclude: 'We know fourth dose is safe'

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Posted by Y Rabinovitz


“Here’s the latest on what’s known … about Omicron,” says the Associated Press. “A booster shot of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine produces virus-fighting antibodies capable of tackling Omicron.”

While AP admits that vaccines have shown less protection against Omicron than against Delta, and that antibody levels “naturally drop over time,” they offer the reassuring assertion that booster shots “revved them back up again, by 25 times for Pfizer’s extra shot and 37 times for Moderna’s.”

Those are quite dramatic numbers; the numbers provided by Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett just a few weeks later, however, weren’t quite so astounding. Bennett was visiting Sheba Medical Center, Israel’s largest hospital, when he told media that “a week after administration of a fourth dose [i.e. a second booster shot], we see a five-fold increase in the number of antibodies in the vaccinated person.”

So, is it five times more protection, or 25 times, or 37 times? Where are the data, anyway?

The study Bennett was referring to commenced on December 27, 2021. Bennett made his comments on January 4, 2022, eight days later. 150 healthcare workers were enrolled in the trial, all people who had received their third vaccine dose back in August and who had been tested and found to have “low” antibody levels, just four months after that third shot.

150 people don’t exactly make a huge study, but for Bennett, it was enough to conclude that: “A week into the fourth dose, we know to a high degree of certainty that the fourth dose is safe.” 

Introducing a barely detectable note of caution, the Prime Minister added that, “This most likely means a significant increase against infection and … hospitalization and severe symptoms.”

AP agrees: They told their readers that vaccines are going to “protect you against severe disease, hospitalization, and death.” They also went out of their way to stress that natural immunity is nothing to write home about: “A prior infection doesn’t seem to offer much protection against an Omicron infection…”

The data from the Israeli study are not (yet?) available. Neither did AP see fit to back up its assertions with statistics. However, here are a few earlier graphs - from January 5, 2022, in Ontario:

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