Booster shots of the anti-Covid vaccine for the elderly and vulnerable groups are a one-way street, member of the advisory team on coronavirus Dr Petros Karayiannis said on Wednesday, suggesting the government may have to move forward with them before an official recommendation is issued by the European Medicines Agency (EMA).
The Professor of Microbiology/Molecular Virology at the University of Nicosia Medical School told the Cyprus News Agency that might take weeks for the EMA to issue a recommendation for booster shots, a delay that may cost an autumn surge of the virus.
He added that the advisory committee has forwarded suggestions to the health ministry for a booster shot. “Whether we move forward or not is a political decision,” he said.
Using recent data from the UK and Israel as examples, Karayiannis said that third shots might be necessary.
Israel has already started administering third shots for over-40s and has already covered a million shots, he said, pointing out that data has shown that booster shots greatly improve immune response to the virus.
“A third dose of the vaccine was shown to be four times more effective in protecting against infection than just two, and six times more effective in preventing hospitalisation”.
In addition, a recent study by British researchers showed that protection against Covid-19 offered by two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech and the Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccines begins to fade within six months.
This signifies that a third dose is vital, particularly for the elderly and those in vulnerable groups, who were among the first to get vaccinated, Karayiannis said.
“If we wait for the EMA, this might take weeks. The autumn and winter are not too far away, so if we want to prevent a surge, I believe that a third shot is a one-way street,” he said, adding that the process might be age-group based once more.
State health services (Okypy) spokesman Charalambos Charilaou shared Karayiannis’ view, saying that “we need to raise a protective wall” around the most vulnerable, particularly the elderly.
He explained that at the moment, a third of patients being treated for Covid in hospitals are over 70, which shows that protection against the virus may have waned from the time they first received their vaccines back in January.
“In early July, there were only 15 over-70s in Covid wards. Since then, this number has risen steadily, to surpass 70,” he said.
Famagusta hospital scientific director Amalia Hadjiyianni also told CNA that the latest hospital admissions reflect this phenomenon. All vaccines, not only the ones against Covid, need to be followed by a repeat dose since the immunity lasts for a specific period of time, she said.
“The vaccine’s effectiveness against previous variants was around 99 per cent, whereas now it has fallen to 66 per cent. Despite this, vaccines are still effective in protecting people and saving lives”.
It is necessary to move forward with booster shots, and this must happen without waiting for EMA approval, in case the process is delayed, health ministry scientific advisor Christos Petrou told Phileleftheros.
“There are three reasons why third shots are being consider; to catch up with the waning of protection as time goes by, to prevent heavy illness and death, and to boost protection against variants among vulnerable groups”.
Cyprus has ordered additional Moderna and Pfizer shots, as the booster jab will be administered using mRNA vaccines, regardless of which jab people initially received.