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Littwin: The third jab is coming. Should rich countries go to a booster when poor countries are still missing a first shot?

Most of the COVID questions are easy. Unvaccinated kids should wear masks to school. Everyone eligible should get the vaccine. The booster is not quite so clear.

Just when you think the war against COVID can’t get much stranger, we now have the third-jab issue to contend with.

We’re still, incredibly, fighting — sometimes literally — over masks for school children. I remain stunned by this, even as Douglas County commissioners just opted out of the Tri-County Health Department’s requirement for masks in schools. DougCo Commissioner  George Teal explained it this way: “By opting out of this public health order, we will be securing the blessings of liberty.”

In other words, while DougCo is securing freedom from cloth coverings, the number of kids being hospitalized for COVID-19 is rising in Colorado and around the country and is expected to rise even more rapidly as more schools open. It’s the same absence of logic we’ve seen in Florida and Texas and other states where governors have mandated that school districts can’t mandate masks. Apparently only they can mandate. I wonder if these red-state governors will pay a political price for politicizing masks, but I’m not counting on it.

Mike Littwin

And, of course, there’s still the little matter of the first jab. Even with an uptick in vaccinations as the delta variant takes us back to the bad old days of rising cases, rising hospitalizations and rising deaths, there are still roughly 84 million eligible Americans who have not gotten a single shot. That doesn’t simply put them at risk, but also the rest of us. 

Which brings us back to the booster shot, the third jab. I’m eligible for the COVID booster shot when it becomes available next month. But the question is: Should I get the third jab?

It’s a serious question. And it’s an ethical question at least as much as a scientific one. Unlike mask wearing and getting the vaccine itself, it’s actually a hard question.

The World Health Organization, when it’s not busy kowtowing to the Chinese, has taken time to suggest that rich countries should not offer booster shots — the science is still out on how effective a booster would be — while people in poor countries around the world are dying because they haven’t been able to access even one shot.

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We know the deal. Anyone in the U.S. can get a shot and get it for free. But worldwide, it’s a zero-sum game. Whatever you think of the WHO these days, they don’t make an unreasonable argument about where the vaccines should be going, particularly when many states have actually had to toss parts of their vaccine allotment for lack of demand. The United States has pledged to send out 600 million vaccines — we’re at a reported 115 million so far — to low-income countries. 

Joe Biden is all in on the third shot. “We can take care of America and help the world at the same time,” he said. It’s not just helping the world. In those places where vaccinations are rare, there’s more opportunity for new variants to arise, and there’s no guarantee that those variants won’t be even more worrisome than the delta variant.

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The CDC is in on the third shot. Dr. Fauci is in, saying it’s important to get ahead of the issue, especially as it seems that the vaccine may lose effectiveness over time. I tend to listen to Fauci, and not just because he’s a punching bag for the right. (Donald Trump bashed the booster the other day, which also suggests I should be listening to Fauci.) But some experts question the need. When a booster was recommended for those with immune issues, the response from the medical science community was virtually unanimous. But two shots still afford a great deal of protection for most people.

John Hickenlooper is certainly in. Hick was one of three U.S. senators to announce in the past few days that they have tested positive for COVID despite being fully vaccinated. Those are the so-called breakthrough cases we hear about. There’s a question of whether the breakthroughs are being downplayed or overplayed — depending on your politics — and I don’t pretend to have the answer.

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But what Hickenlooper did say made sense. He said that because he was fully vaccinated, his symptoms were minimal, and that if he hadn’t been vaccinated, it might have turned out entirely differently. 

So he encouraged everyone to get vaccinated. And he encouraged everyone, when eligible, to get a booster.

Jared Polis is in. And as I’ve said often enough, Polis is a strange case — very much pro-science and yet very much anti-mandate.

He recently sent out a letter to school superintendents across the state urging them to mandate masks in their districts — but, at the same time, refusing to issue a mandate of his own, even as he says his own kids would definitely wear masks. And even stranger than that, in a call for civility on this issue, he explained some in different communities have “higher risk tolerance” and that “there’s no right and wrong.” There actually is a right or wrong here. And Polis knows what it is, or he wouldn’t have sent out the letter.

In a news conference, Polis then went on to make the risk-tolerance analogy of those parents who refused to let their 16-year-olds get driver’s licenses because they don’t think it’s safe. Looking at my own history, I’m not arguing the safety issue concerning teenagers, but try it on your 16-year-old and see how long civility holds.

But here’s the kicker. In that same news conference, Polis also winkingly suggested it might be OK to get that third shot before you’re eligible, as many people have apparently already done. Eligibility is now set at eight months after your second shot. And in case you thought Polis was kidding, he told Axios Denver, “That’s a hint to people that they can do it.”

As for me, I am getting the booster when I’m eligible. And I have at least four good reasons. The first two are my grandchildren, who are too young to be vaccinated, and therefore at risk. The third is that I’m old and therefore also at risk. And the fourth is even more straightforward. When the vaccines come to your pharmacy, the choice has already been made. States can’t send their allotments off to a needy country. If the vaccines aren’t used, then they simply go bad. 

So, yes, I’m in. Not getting the booster would be an exercise in futility, helping no one. And believe me when I say that when it comes to COVID, we’ve already seen way too much of that.


Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.


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