Is COVID-19 Booster Doses Needed?

The vaccination status of those required to get their Covid-19 booster shot will be deemed “incomplete” if they fail to get their shots by February next year. If these group of individuals still have not got their booster shots after February 2022, their vaccination status will be changed to ‘incomplete’,” the Health Minister told a press conference in Parliament on 16 Dec 2021. This means that booster doses are now required for the aforementioned groups. Otherwise, they would not be able to enjoy the benefits given to fully vaccinated recipients.

Although COVID-19 vaccination continues to be effective in preventing severe disease, recent data indicate that vaccination becomes less effective over time, particularly in people aged 65 and older, and in preventing infection or milder illness with symptoms. The recent emergence of the Omicron variant (B.1.1.529) emphasises the importance of COVID-19 vaccination and COVID-19 boosters. Recent evidence also suggests that vaccine effectiveness against COVID-19 infection is decreasing over time among healthcare and other frontline workers. This lower efficacy is most likely due to a combination of decreasing protection with time since vaccination and the Delta and Omicron variants’ higher infectiousness.

This Booster programme in Malaysia has now been expanded to include all individuals aged 18 and above as of November 25, 2021. Priority is given to frontline health, safety, and defence personnel, people over the age of 40, people with comorbidities, people over the age of 18, residents and staff at long-term health care facilities, pregnant women, and people who need to travel overseas. Only three vaccines, manufactured by Pfizer-BioNTech, Sinovac, and AstraZeneca, are currently approved for use as booster shots and third doses in Malaysia.

It is critical to understand the distinctions between booster dose and third dose. A booster dose is an additional dose given on top of the previously administered doses. Sinovac vaccine recipients will be eligible for boosters three months after the date they received their second dose while those fully vaccinated using Pfizer and AstraZeneca will be able to get theirs six months after their date of completion. The third dose, on the other hand, is an additional dose given to people with moderately to severely compromised immune systems. This extra dose is meant to improve immunocompromised people’s response to their initial vaccine series. The third dose is given 28 days after the second dose, regardless of the type of the first two vaccines received.

Booster doses are also highly recommended for women who are pregnant and breastfeeding. The advantages of taking a booster dose include protecting a pregnant mother from severe COVID-19 illness, as evidence about the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccination during pregnancy and lactation grows. According to these findings, the benefits of receiving a COVID-19 vaccine outweigh any known or potential risks of vaccination during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Thus, let’s get your booster when you’re eligible, and Pfizer-BioNTech still remains the primary Covid-19 booster option regardless of the primary vaccine used.

The article was written by Dr Lim Yin Cheng and Prof Dr Victor Hoe.

It was published in the Star Newspaper, Malaysian Insight, and the Malay Mail.

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