Vaccine ‘booster shots’ not on government’s agenda just yet

Information Minister Melford Nicholas (file photo)
Information Minister Melford Nicholas (file photo)
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By Orville Williams

[email protected]

The government says it will continue to focus on getting as many residents as possible vaccinated toward reaching herd immunity, rather than considering boosting the immunity of those people who are already fully inoculated.

Late last month, details of an Oxford University study were made public, showing that a third dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine increases antibody and T-cell immune responses, giving the body greater protection against infection.

Amid this development, according to Reuters, “the British government has said it is looking at plans for an autumn vaccine booster campaign, with three-fifths of adults already having received both doses of a Covid vaccine”.

Meanwhile, US pharmaceutical company Pfizer, which also manufactures Covid-19 vaccines, said last week it is already seeing reduced immunity from its vaccine and is working on developing a booster shot to “protect people from [the new] virus variants”.

With the resumption of cruise tourism officially underway and other travel into the island already increased, the threat of infection from the new virus variants has also gone up.

Bearing this in mind, the government was asked whether there are any considerations being given to these ‘booster shots’ for residents in Antigua and Barbuda, with nearly 30,000 second doses already administered.

Yesterday, Information Minister Melford Nicholas told the post-Cabinet media briefing that they are aware of some of these additional vaccine technicalities but would, more importantly, focus on increasing the number of people who take the vaccine in the first place.

“What we do know is that having a complete dose of the available vaccines gives us a level of protection and our main challenge right now is not to get perfection for those who are already vaccinated, but to get many more people in the door.”

He also assured that they will not take any further steps toward vaccine administration without advice from some trusted partners.

“To avoid any trap … the Ministry of Health and the government has relied on professional advice that we’ve gotten from [the Pan-American Health Organization] PAHO and from the [World Health Organization] WHO.

“We’re sticking close to that particular level of advisory group, blended of course with our own local professionals, so we’re not quick to move to those particular regimes.”

It is important to note that in the case of the Oxford University study, Director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, Andrew Pollard, said “evidence that the vaccine protects against current variants for a sustained period of time meant that such a booster may not be needed”.

Likewise, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), both noted – in response to Pfizer – that “Americans who have been fully vaccinated do not need a booster shot at this time”.

The WHO said further, “we don’t know whether booster vaccines will be needed to maintain protection against Covid-19 until additional data is collected”.

The researchers at the heart of that Oxford University study also pointed to the ongoing vaccine shortages in several countries as another reason the boosters may not be needed just yet.

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