Good initiative but further studies may be needed

PETALING JAYA: While the government’s move to start booster shots in Sarawak is lauded by health experts, some of them feel that further studies are needed.

Malaysian Public Health Physicians’ Association president Datuk Dr Zainal Ariffin Omar is in favour of the initiative because of two reasons; firstly, the high immunisation coverage that has been achieved in Sarawak.

“Hence, they can start administering booster doses,” he added.

Another reason that supports the move is the high number of cases prevalent in the state lately.

The daily cases in Sarawak reached its all-time high at 5,291 on Sept 12, and an additional 2,943 cases were reported yesterday.

However, notably, only a low percentage of those infected was in the severe categories.

Dr Zainal Ariffin feels that the timing was right for the booster shots to be administered in Sarawak as soon as possible.

“Current data is sufficient to justify giving boosters to the elderly and vulnerable groups and next, to the frontliners,” he said.

Universiti Malaya professor of epidemiology and public health Dr Sanjay Rampal, however, said it was probably too soon for the decision to be made, though he acknowledged that it was a good initiative by the government.

“This is due to the ongoing development of evidence for the need of a third dose or a booster shot.

“Vaccines are very unlikely to eradicate the disease. Booster shots may increase our immunity against Covid-19 but more longer-term studies are still needed,” he said.

Prof Sanjay reiterated the importance of ensuring sufficient vaccine supply for the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme before starting on booster shots.

He noted the recommendation by the World Health Organisation, which is to complete vaccination programmes globally before considering booster doses, as a measure of maintaining vaccine equity.

“As long as the Covid-19 global incidence remains at a high, newer strains will continue to appear. Thus, it’s important that all countries have access to vaccines,” he said.

Prof Sanjay said that future booster shots should also cover newer strains, adding that it would be wise to start negotiating for future access to these new booster shots.

“When purchasing booster shots, it is important to consider the vaccine effectiveness against the newer variants of Covid-19,” he said.

Citing a lack of evidence, he believes it is premature to extend the booster shots to other groups and is most likely not cost-effective to give them to younger age groups.

During his visit to Kuching yesterday, Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said Sarawak was set to be the first state to kick off Covid-19 vaccine booster shots for the elderly and other vulnerable groups next month as it was the earliest in completing its vaccination exercise.

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