Health experts for boosters to maximise protection of vulnerable groups
People aged over 65, comorbid patients, and health workers are particularly in danger
Covid-19 infections have recently been on the rise in many European countries and although the number of cases has dropped in Bangladesh, health experts have not yet dismissed the possibility of a third wave.
And in case of another wave, experts have urged the government to launch a booster programme for health workers, elderly citizens and immunocompromised people so that the number of future fatalities remains under control.
"The government should arrange booster shots for those aged over 65, comorbid patients, and health workers on a priority basis," said Professor Sayedur Rahman, chairman of the Pharmacology Department at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University.
He said as Covid-19 infections are increasing, another wave could put these three vulnerable groups in more danger.
"People who took the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine as the first dose will be able to take Pfizer and Moderna as the second dose," he added.
Bangladesh has so far reported 15.74 lakh Covid cases and 17,961 deaths from the infection. So far, 35.70% of Bangladeshi adults have received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine while 22.30% have had two doses. In Bangladesh, the nationwide vaccination programme began on 7 February with the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covishield vaccines.
Dr Ashraful Hoque, an antibody researcher and an assistant professor at the Sheikh Hasina National Institute of Burn and Plastic Surgery, conducted a study on 500 people who received the Covishield vaccines from 1 February to 20 May. He discovered that 100% of the people who took both the shots of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine developed antibodies.
He said, "Young people were found to have antibodies at protective levels six months after receiving the Covishield vaccine, but those with comorbidity, especially chronic kidney disease, diabetes, heart disease and other diseases, lost antibody levels significantly."
Depending on the availability of the vaccine, booster doses should be given to comorbid patients, he added.
But the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) has said the government is still undecided about administering booster shots.
Professor Dr Meerjady Sabrina Flora, chair of the Covid-19 Vaccine Management Taskforce Committee of the DGHS, told The Business Standard, "We have plans to administer booster doses gradually but we have not reached any decision yet."
She said the authorities are keenly observing the World Health Organisation's recommendations and will decide accordingly.
Meanwhile, after Covid-19 infections broke records in parts of Europe on Wednesday, health experts pushed to widen the use of booster vaccination shots.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), the EU public health agency, has recommended vaccine boosters for all adults, with priority for those over 40, in a major shift from its previous guidance which suggested the extra doses should be considered for older frail people and those with weakened immune systems.
"Available evidence emerging from Israel and the UK shows a significant increase in protection against infection and severe disease following a booster dose in all age groups in the short term," the ECDC said on Wednesday, reported Reuters on 25 November.
Many EU countries have already begun giving booster doses but are using different criteria to prioritise them and different intervals between the first shots and boosters.
ECDC head Andrea Ammon said boosters would increase protection against infection caused by waning immunity and "could potentially reduce the transmission in the population and prevent additional hospitalisations and deaths".
However, Dr Meerjady Sabrina Flora said the Bangladesh government is currently going forward in line with WHO recommendations to administer booster shots only after giving a certain number of citizens the first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.