Govt. keep tabs on developments on booster dose

Younten Tshedup 

Despite fully vaccinating more than 97 percent of the eligible population in the country, the risk of Covid-19 looms large mainly in areas along the southern border with the pandemic in neighbouring areas still unabated. 

This prompted the question of whether there is a need for a third or fourth dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, also called as the booster dose, or whether Covid-19 vaccination would become an annual affair to keep check of the pandemic. 

 Experts say that vaccination against SARS-CoV-2 virus might not end with a single booster dose. The United States and Israel, the first two countries in the world to start vaccinating their population against Covid-19, are now recommending a second booster dose (a third dose) of vaccine, especially for the immunocompromised individuals. 

 Immunocompromised individuals are those who have undergone major surgeries including organ transplants and those who have a weakened immune system due to some chronic illness. In some, the immune system gets compromised with age, as they suffer a combination of disease and medical conditions. 

 Member of the national immunisation technical advisory group (NI-TAG), Dr Sonam Wangchuk, said that this group of people remain vulnerable to getting infected and developing severe disease from Covid-19 despite being fully vaccinated (after two doses of vaccine) as their immune system is not able to produce an adequate level of antibodies to fight the virus. 

 “Based on the evidence, the vaccine will protect people from becoming severely ill from Covid-19, but if there are frequent outbreaks and the variants keep changing, there are possibilities of people, especially the vulnerable groups from suffering severe sickness, including death.” 

Fearing the same consequence, Dr Sonam Wangchuk said that Israel already began vaccinating people above the age of 50 with a second booster or a third dose. 

 Earlier this month, Israel began inoculating its population above 50 years with the third dose of Covid-19 vaccine after its health ministry and health experts recommended the move. 

Israel also became the first country in the world to begin administering booster shots to those over 60 years. 

 On August 13, an independent panel advising the US’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended third doses of Covid-19 vaccine for certain people with weakened immune systems, giving its support to the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) authorisation of the extra shots.

 Dr Sonam Wangchuk said that the need for a third dose of the vaccine for the general population is yet to be established. “Studies are ongoing and more evidence will be made available in the coming days. However, the need for a third dose is strongly felt among the vulnerable population as they are not adequately protected by two doses of vaccine.”

 It would be too early for Bhutan, Dr Sonam Wangchuk said, to decide anything on this, for now. “We have recently completed our vaccination programme and for at least six months, people will be protected.” 

Sowai Lyonpo (health minister) Dechen Wangmo said that the ministry is keeping a close watch on the developments across the world. Lyonpo said that besides the international evidence, Bhutan was also conducting studies on the same subject. 

The health ministry has been collecting random samples from people who have been fully vaccinated to check the level of antibodies in them. Samples from children (12-17 years) are also being collected. 

Edited by Tshering Palden