The rapid spread of coronavirus disease (Covid-19) due to emergence of the Omicron variant has renewed calls for getting people vaccinated at a faster pace. Many healthcare experts have said that vaccination remains the only proven way to beat the infection.
The Omicron variant of coronavirus has created an unprecedented situation, leading to surge in Covid-19 infection and increasing the vaccination doses. Many countries across the world are asking people to take a third – or the booster shot – to tackle the heavily mutated Omicron.
Israel has gone a step further and is giving a fourth dose of Covid-19 vaccine to its population. India has also launched a programme to inoculate an eligible group of people with the precautionary dose.
But is this the way forward? And do we have to take a booster shot every few months? The healthcare experts and researchers have been baffled by the constantly mutating coronavirus and have been advocating increasing the vaccine coverage. But in many interviews, these experts have said that trying to boost the entire population every few months is not realistic.
Akiko Iwasaki, professor of immunobiology at Yale University and one of the most authoritative voices on Covid-19, told New York Times that “there are better ways than doing boosters every six months”.
“This doesn’t seem to be a sustainable long-term strategy, for sure,” said another immunologist Deepta Bhattacharya, from the University of Arizona.
Booster shots were advocated to increase the immunity against the coronavirus, looking at the frequent mutations it is coming up with. But there is no data to support the effectiveness of this dose.
The boost to the immunity has been temporary, with some studies in the United States pointing to a drop in antibody levels just weeks after a third dose.
“Even with that amount of antibody, it’s very hard to stop the virus for very long. It’s a much higher bar now than before, and maybe an Omicron-specific vaccine would do a better job,” Shane Crotty, a virologist based in California told the New York Times.
Late last year, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said that people might need a fourth Covid-19 shot sooner than expected due to the Omicron variant. The statement came days after Pfizer and BioNTech released results of a study which showed that a third shot of the vaccine is effective against Omicron, but a two-dose regime saw its ability to protect dropping significantly against the heavily-mutated virus.
But in the United States, the worst affected country, Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that it’s too early to discuss a potential fourth dose of Covid-19 vaccine.
Singapore’s Health Minister Ong Ye Kung reiterated the same thought in a Facebook post on Friday. “If you have recovered well from an infection, without complications, your immune system would have gone through a strong stimulus. Think of it as a fairly powerful vaccination shot,” he said.
Ong said there is no rush to get boosted for those who have been infected and then vaccinated, or those who have been infected in between vaccine doses.