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WHO experts back COVID-19 booster shot for those with weak immune systems

Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization says target people are less likely to respond adequately to vaccination with just two doses

A Sri Lankan university student receives her coronavirus vaccine at the Sri Jayawardenapura university in Colombo, Sri Lanka, October 11, 2021. (Eranga Jayawardena/AP)
A Sri Lankan university student receives her coronavirus vaccine at the Sri Jayawardenapura university in Colombo, Sri Lanka, October 11, 2021. (Eranga Jayawardena/AP)

GENEVA, Switzerland (AFP) — The World Health Organization’s vaccine advisers on Monday recommended people with weakened immune systems should be offered an additional dose of all WHO-approved COVID-19 vaccines.

The UN health agency’s experts also said over-60s fully immunized with China’s Sinovac and Sinopharm vaccines should be offered an additional third COVID-19 vaccine dose.

The Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE) stressed it was not recommending an additional booster dose for the population at large, which is already being rolled out in some countries.

The WHO wants a moratorium on booster doses for the general population until the end of the year to prioritize first doses in the dozens of nations starved of vaccines.

SAGE said it would review the issue of general booster doses on November 11.

Several COVID-19 vaccines have been given WHO approval for emergency use during the pandemic: Pfizer-BioNTech, Janssen, Moderna, Sinopharm, Sinovac and AstraZeneca.

The WHO is also on the verge of deciding whether to give emergency use listing (EUL) to India’s Bharat Biotech jab.

Boosters for the vulnerable

SAGE held a four-day meeting last week to review the latest information and data on a range of vaccines for COVID-19 and other diseases.

“SAGE recommended that moderately and severely immunocompromised persons should be offered an additional dose of all WHO EUL COVID-19 vaccines as part of an extended primary series,” the group said.

“These individuals are less likely to respond adequately to vaccination following a standard primary vaccine series and are at high risk of severe COVID-19 disease.”

Kate O’Brien, the WHO’s vaccines chief, said the extra dose should be considered as part of the normal COVID-19 immunization course for people with weaker immune systems, to be administered after a wait of one to three months.

It should bring their level of protection up to that demonstrated to prevent against severe disease, hospitalization and death in clinical trials — from which people with immunocompromised conditions were excluded.

Chinese jabs and over-60s

SAGE also said that for people fully immunized with Sinovac and Sinopharm vaccines — both two-dose regimens — an additional third shot of the same jab “should be offered to persons aged 60 and above.”

A different vaccine “may also be considered based on vaccine supply and access considerations.”

SAGE added that when implementing this recommendation, countries should initially aim at maximizing two-dose coverage in that population, and thereafter administer the third dose, starting in the oldest age groups.

The Sinopharm jab is used in 69 countries, while Sinovac has been rolled out in 36, according to an AFP count.

Algeria, Egypt, Ethiopia, Pakistan and the Philippines are among the countries using both jabs, besides China.

Sinopharm is also used in Bangladesh, Hungary, Iran, Kenya, Nigeria, Peru, Sri Lanka and the United Arab Emirates.

Sinovac is used by Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, Singapore, Turkey and Ukraine.

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