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Countries weigh need for Covid booster shots

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Many countries are rolling out Covid-19 vaccine booster shots, but there is no consensus among scientists that they are necessary and the World Health Organization wants the most vulnerable people worldwide to be fully vaccinated first.

Illustration picture: Reuters

MANY countries are rolling out Covid-19 vaccine booster shots, but there is no consensus among scientists that they are necessary and the World Health Organization wants the most vulnerable people worldwide to be fully vaccinated first.

The WHO on December 9 largely stuck to its earlier guidance that only people with health issues or inactivated vaccine should get boosters.

However, concern about the Omicron coronavirus variant has led some countries to expand their booster programmes.

Here are some of the options countries and regions are considering:

NORTH AMERICA

US health regulators on November 19 expanded eligibility for booster shots to all fully vaccinated adults.

The US CDC took a stance more cautious than previously and said on November 30 that everyone over 18 should get a booster shot as Omicron’s emergence emphasised the importance of vaccination.

Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization is recommending booster shots of an authorized mRNA vaccine to those who are moderately or severely immuno-compromised.

EUROPE

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) on November 24 recommended vaccine boosters for all adults, with priority for those over 40. Previously it had suggested the extra doses should be considered for frail older people and those with weakened immune systems.

The European Commission proposed on November 25 that EU residents should need to have Covid-19 vaccine booster jabs if they want to travel to another country in the bloc next summer free of tests or quarantines.

The EU’s drugs regulator said on December 9 that data supports vaccine boosters after three months.

Contracts with Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna have included the potential for the bloc to buy booster shots.

These European countries are offering boosters to adults after they receive a full dose of a vaccine:

* Austria; Britain (accelerated its programme offering jabs to over 18s by end-December); Czech Republic; France (delivered 12.5 million booster shots and is targeting 20 million by Christmas); Germany (all over-18s); Greece (three months after second vaccine shot or positive test, down from six months previously); Hungary; Ireland (all adults); Italy (so far for over 40s, will be made available to all over 18s); Malta (all over-12s); Norway; Poland; Russia; Romania (only Pfizer or Moderna boosters were approved); Serbia; Slovakia; Spain (Pfizer or Moderna booster shots for all inoculated with J&J); Sweden (will begin gradual roll out to all adults).

These countries are offering boosters to people with weak immune systems, the elderly or vulnerable:

* Belgium (mRNA); Bulgaria; Denmark (cut booster shot interval to 4-1/2 months for over-40s from six months); Finland (may expand to other Finns later); Lithuania; Netherlands (over-60s); Portugal (to be offered to a quarter of its population by the end of January, including over 50s inoculated with J&J vaccine); Slovenia; Spain (expanded from over-70s to over-60s); Switzerland (new recommendation for people under 65 expected in the next few weeks).

AFRICA

* Egypt will activate within days a plan to offer booster shots for senior citizens, people with chronic diseases and health-care workers, the health ministry said on November 24.

* Morocco, which has administered the most doses in Africa, started giving a third dose in October.

* Nigeria will start make booster shots available from December 10 to those fully vaccinated.

** Tunisia (5 months after second dose).

ASIA, MIDDLE EAST

* India has no immediate plan to authorise vaccine boosters, the health ministry said on December 10.

These countries are offering boosters to adults after they receive a full dose:

* Bahrain (Sputnik V, all over-18s at least six months after second dose); Cambodia (AstraZeneca); Indonesia (health workers only, wider population planned in 2022); Israel (all over-12s); South Korea (reduced the booster gap for all adults to three months from four-to-five); Turkey; Thailand (AstraZeneca or mRNA-type booster shots to people who were administered Sinovac brand); UAE (mandatory for people inoculated with Sinopharm vaccine).

These countries are offering boosters to people with weak immune systems, the elderly or vulnerable:

** China; Hong Kong; Japan (started administering boosters to health care workers in early December, will offer shots to elderly as of January); Singapore.

AUSTRALIA began administering Pfizer Covid booster shots in November to fully vaccinated adults. It will cut the time interval for booster shots to five from six months.

LATIN & CENTRAL AMERICA

These countries are offering boosters to adults after they receive a full dose:

* Brazil; Uruguay (offers a Pfizer dose for those fully vaccinated with Sinovac).

These countries are offering boosters only to the immuno-suppressed:

* Ecuador (boosters for general population planned from January 2022), Panama.

These are offering boosters to elderly, vulnerable and at-risk people:

* Chile; Brazil; Dominican Republic, El Salvador (elderly, health workers, people with underlying health conditions).

* Mexico plans to administer Covid-19 vaccine booster doses soon, beginning with elderly people.

COMPANIES

Pfizer/BioNTech, as well as Moderna, received US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorisation for the use of booster doses of their vaccines for all adults on November 19.

The FDA authorized on December 9 Pfizer/BioNTech booster for 16- and 17-year-olds.

BioNTech and Pfizer said on December 8 that a booster shot of their Covid-19 vaccine was able to neutralise the new Omicron variant.

Moderna said it could have a Covid-19 booster shot targeting the Omicron variant tested and ready to file for US authorisation as soon as March.

Regulators had previously authorised boosters for all recipients of Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose vaccine, two months after their primary dose.

The European Union’s drug regulator (EMA) authorised the use of Moderna and Pfizer Covid-19 booster shots for over-18s, at least six months after the second dose.

EMA is also considering an authorisation for AstraZeneca’s and Johnson & Johnson’s booster dose.

The EU regulator has started a rolling review of the inactivated-virus Covid-19 vaccine from French biotech firm Valneva.

Canada authorised booster doses of Moderna and Pfizer vaccines for adults.

Australia’s medicine regulator Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) approved booster doses of Moderna vaccine for over 18-year-olds.

– REUTERS

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