Today in the USA, the joint statement from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Medical Experts on COVID-19 booster shots have stated that they have developed a plan to begin offering booster shots for all Americans beginning the week of September 20, which is about 8 months after an individual’s second shots. The decision was based on the analysis of available data that the protection against SARS-CoV-2 infection begins to decrease over time against mild and moderate disease. However, the vaccine is still effective against severe disease, hospitalisation and death. They only predict that the protection could diminish in the months ahead.
In the time of the pandemic, we must balance between individual and population risk. The role of vaccination in a pandemic is to ensure that as many people get vaccinated as soon as possible. Unless we reach a vaccine coverage that will be able to offer some form of herd immunity, having a boost for individuals to have stronger protection may not be sufficient.
We have seen how the SARS-CoV-2 have evolved or mutated over the past 18 months. The vaccine which was developed based on the original strain of the virus were earlier found to be effective in limiting transmission and people from getting the disease. With the uncontrolled spread of the virus and millions of people getting infected, the virus has a chance to mutate, and the most effective variant of the virus has survived and continue to spread. We are seeing the vaccine is less effective against the Delta variant.
Reports from many countries including Malaysia have found that people who have been fully vaccinated were still able to get infected with the Delta variant and viral load in vaccinated people who have been infected with the Delta variant is the same as unvaccinated people. The reports also show that fully vaccinated people have less severe diseases, and are less likely to be hospitalised or die from COVID-19. This is good news, which indicates the current vaccine regime is still effective against the new variant.
The World should not lose focus, especially people in the developed nations. The World Health Organization have reiterated that the focus should remain on increasing global vaccination coverage. The latest vaccination data from the World Health Organization shows that there are still 77 countries with less than 10% of their population have been fully vaccinated and 33 countries with less than 1% of their population.
The statement “No-one is safe until everyone is safe” is still relevant.
We must not divert the vaccine for booster dose when there are still many people in the developing world who have yet to received the COVID-19 vaccine. If we do not vaccinate the World, the virus will continue to mutate and it will be very difficult for us to move beyond the pandemic.
WHO also states that to date, the evidence remains limited and inconclusive on any widespread need for booster doses following a primary vaccination series.
Written by Prof Dr Victor Hoe
The article is published in the Star Newspaper.