GEORGE TOWN: There is a need for bivalent vaccines (BV) as boosters for the sick and people above their 60s, says a medical expert.
Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) virologist Dr Kumitaa Theva Das said some of the early data showed that the BV resulted in lower hospitalisations in comparison to the monovalent vaccines.
However, a recent pre-print or preliminary versions of scientific manuscripts by researchers in the United States showed limited differences between the bivalent and the monovalent boosters at increasing antibody levels.
“When the bivalent vaccines (specific to Omicron BA.4 and BA.5) were first available, the circulating variants were also BA.4 and BA.5.
“However, as the virus has been constantly mutating, with XBB.1.5. XBB.1.16 and XBB.2.3 being the predominant strains now, the monovalent and bivalent vaccines are equally as effective against the XBB strains,” she said.Dr Kumitaa said the monovalent vaccine includes a component of the original virus strain to provide protection against Covid-19. The primary dose of vaccine that Malaysia received in 2021, including Pfizer and Astra Zeneca vaccines, were monovalent vaccines.
However, as the virus evolved, to ensure that we received sufficient protection from the vaccines, most vaccines’ formulation was updated to include components of the Omicron variant as well.
So bivalent vaccines now also include a component of the original virus strain and a component of the Omicron variant, specifically BA.4/5, to provide better protection against Covid-19 caused by the Omicron variants, she added.
On whether there is the need to expedite purchasing the BV, Dr Kumitaa said despite the unavailability of BV in the country, there is no rush to purchase it yet.
“However, for those over 60, it is crucial to get boosted,” she said.
Less than 80% of those over 60 have received their first booster and less than 8% have received their second booster, putting them at higher risk to get infected with severe symptoms, she added.
Penang Hospital infectious disease consultant Datuk Dr Chow Ting Soo said BV should be available for those 60 and above or those with comorbidities who are under 60, as well as the immune compromised group.
“In making this happen, the committee at the ministry level must recommend this,” she said.
Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow said the Covid-19 situation in Penang is still under control.
“There are also no issues with incentive care unit beds in our hospitals,” said Chow, adding that BV is still not available in Penang.