…also considers vaccinating children between 5-11 years 

Younten Tshedup  

With the threat from Covid-19 pandemic still looming large, more so during the winter season, the Ministry of Health (MoH) is planning to provide a booster dose to priority groups, including those in high-risk areas.

Covid-19 vaccine boosters and additional vaccine doses are now authorised by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and recommended by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for certain vulnerable populations.

A Covid-19 booster shot is an additional dose of a vaccine administered after the protection provided by the original shot(s) has begun to decrease over time. The booster is designed to help people maintain their level of immunity for a longer period of time.

Member of the national immunisation technical advisory group (NI-TAG), Dr Sonam Wangchuk, said in an earlier interview that despite being fully vaccinated (two-dose), certain groups of people remain vulnerable to being infected and developing severe illness from Covid-19 as their immune system is not able to produce an adequate level of antibodies to fight the virus.

These people include elderly and immunocompromised individuals who have undergone major surgeries such as 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.

Dr Sonam Wangchuk said that based on evidence, the existing vaccines will protect people from becoming severely ill from Covid-19. “However, if there are frequent outbreaks and the variants keep changing, there are possibilities of people, especially those in vulnerable groups, suffering from severe sickness, including death.”

He said that recognising this importance, countries like Israel started providing a second booster or a third dose to its population above 50 years sometime in August of this year.

The CDC recommends a booster dose at least six months after completing the primary Covid-19 vaccination series for people above the age of 65 years. It also recommends boosters for those 18 years and above who have underlying medical conditions and those who reside in the high-risk areas.

Vaccine for children 

According to a press release from the MoH, besides considering a booster dose for the priority groups, the ministry is also exploring vaccinations for children between the age of 5-11 years. There are 83,277 children in these age groups.

The FDA has authorised the emergency use of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine (paediatric dose) for children between 5 to 11 years on October 29. It was found that the vaccine was more than 90 percent effective in preventing Covid-19 infection in these age groups and produced a similar immune response observed in people between the age of 16 to 25 years.

The FDA’s evaluation conducted in some 3,100 children in these age groups did not find any serious side effects among the recipients.

Similarly, the CDC on November 2 endorsed the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices’ recommendation to use the Pfizer vaccine in children between the age of 5-11 years.

As of now, only two countries, the USA and Israel, have rolled out the vaccination for the children in this age group. However, the Pfizer paediatric vaccine is still awaiting Emergency Use Authorisation (EUA) from the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Currently, Bhutan has 211,290 doses of mRNA vaccines.

Meanwhile, as of November 17, the MoH has fully vaccinated 76.8 percent of the entire population, including 93.2 percent of the adult (18 years and above) population. A total of 92.8 percent of children aged 12-17 years have also received both doses of the vaccine.

Edited by Tshering  Palden