Updated: August 13, 2021 1:37:32 pm
The United States’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Friday authorised vaccine booster shots for transplant recipients and people with weakened immune systems to better protect them from variants of Covid-19. The FDA said those who had received either the Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines could take a third dose; there was no information on beneficiaries of the Johnson and Johnson single-dose vaccine.
Countries such as Israel, Germany and France have already laid out plans to roll out the administration of booster shots.
What is the significance of the FDA move?
The announcement signals a change in the FDA’s stance on booster shots. In a joint statement published on July 8, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the FDA had said fully vaccinated Americans did not need additional doses of vaccines.
Now, however, it has said people with a weak immune system — this includes transplant patients, and those with certain cancers or other disorders — can get a third vaccine shot at least 28 days after getting their second dose.
“Today’s action allows doctors to boost immunity in certain immunocompromised individuals who need extra protection from Covid-19,” Dr Janet Woodcock, the FDA’s acting commissioner, said in a statement.
A 2016 study published in JAMA estimated that 2.7 per cent of US adults self-reported that they were immunosuppressed.
Which other countries have authorised booster shots?
Countries including Israel, France, Germany, Britain and Saudi Arabia have announced or are planning to announce the administration of booster shots. This comes at a time when several countries are seeing a surge in Covid-19 infections, largely driven by the Delta variant.
In Israel, booster doses are being offered to those people over the age of 60 who are otherwise fully vaccinated. “Reality proves the vaccines are safe. Reality also proves the vaccines protect against severe morbidity and death. And, like the flu vaccine that needs to be renewed from time to time, it is the same in this case,” Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced in late-July.
Germany’s health ministry has said booster shots will be given to the elderly, immunocompromised patients and residents of nursing homes from September onward.
France is also likely to roll out booster shots for the elderly and vulnerable from September.
The UK has not announced concrete plans so far, but pending data and further evidence, booster shots may be offered from September to vulnerable people. “Millions of people most vulnerable to Covid-19 may be offered a booster vaccination from September to ensure the protection they have from first and second doses is maintained ahead of the winter and against new variants,” UK government’s Department of Health and Social Care announced on June 30.
Saudi Arabia has announced that visitors to the Kingdom who have been fully vaccinated with either of the Chinese vaccines Sinopharm or Sinovac can enter as long as they have received a booster shot of any of the four vaccines approved in the country.
Are booster shots required?
There remains little consensus among scientists about the requirement for booster shots, and the evidence so far is thin.
Notably, the World Health Organization placed a moratorium on Covid-19 boosters in August due to the disparity in vaccination levels in low and high-income countries. The WHO’s Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus emphasised that countries which have already used up a major chunk of the global vaccine supply cannot go on using more of it.
According to the global vaccination dataset maintained by Our World in Data, as of August 11, 30.7 per cent of the world’s population has received at least one dose of the vaccine, while only 16 per cent of the global population is fully vaccinated. In total, 4.59 billion doses have been administered. In low-income countries, only 1.2 per cent has received at least one dose.
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