With Omicron around the corner MoH to rollout booster dose for priority groups

The Ministry of Health (MoH) is planning to provide the COVID-19 vaccine booster dose to the priority groups, including people residing in the high risk areas. Currently, Bhutan has 211,290 doses of mRNA vaccines in the country.

The United States of America (USA)’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends giving the COVID-19 booster shots to people as an additional dose amid growing concern about the newly identified Omicron variant.

The recent emergence of the Omicron variant further emphasizes the importance of vaccination, boosters, and prevention efforts needed to protect against COVID-19, CDC Director Dr Rochelle Walensky said in a statement.

Technical Advisory Group (TAG) for COVID-19, member Dr Sonam Wangchuk said World Health Organization (WHO) has given the go ahead signal for booster dose.

He said technically, there is an advantage, if a booster dose is given because an individual’s immune system is prepped up due to the first and the second doses taken, and the booster will only strengthen it. However, it will depend upon the country-to-country based on the risks. NITAG has recommended giving the booster dose to the elderly population and immunocompromised people.

International studies show that the recent emergence of the Omicron variant (B.1.1.529) further emphasizes the importance of vaccination, boosters, and prevention efforts needed to protect against COVID-19. Early data from South Africa suggest increased transmissibility of the Omicron variant and the potential for immune evasion.

Emerging evidence also shows that among healthcare and other frontline workers, vaccine effectiveness against COVID-19 infection is also decreasing over time.

This lower effectiveness is likely due to the combination of decreasing protection as time passes since getting vaccinated, as well as the greater infectiousness of the Delta variant.

While for the vaccine for children aged 5 to 11 years, US FDA has approved to vaccinate children, and as of now, only two countries (USA and Israel) have rolled out the vaccination for the children of the aforementioned age bracket. However, the Pfizer pediatric vaccine is still awaiting Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the WHO.

As per the health ministry there are 83,227 children in Bhutan. Dr Sonam Wangchuk said although Pfizer vaccine is approved but it is not the same adult dose for Children 5 to11 years.

The Ministry of Health (MoH) is exploring the vaccination of children 5-11 years. Dr Tshokey said the current Pfizer doses stored in Bhutan cannot be rolled out as there is no clinical trial on it and it cannot be used on children. He said, “We will have to wait for the vaccines and when vaccines are available, we will roll it out immediately.”

A concern is that the Moderna CEO warned that current vaccine could be less effective against the omicron variant.

Another concern is that children under the age of 2 account for about 10% of total hospital admissions in the omicron epicenter Tshwane in South Africa, according to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases of South Africa.

 This brings about an enhanced urgecy for the vaccines for children apart from booster doses for the elderly and the vulnerable.

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