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Monday, January 24, 2022

Why some vaccines require boosters and others don’t

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To date, the Gulf nation has administered over 331,437 Moderna and Pfizer booster doses, but why is it needed? 

The COVID-19 virus has so far spawned 11 variants, Delta and Omicron being the two most contagious. Researchers from the UK have analyzed that the booster shot will have a likely impact of 85% protection against severe illness for the Omicron variant.

Pfizer has also released results from an initial study that indicates that the third dose of its COVID-19 vaccine will increase antibodies by 25-fold against the new variant when compared to just two doses. Therefore, experts agree that you should take a booster shot as soon as it becomes available to you and as soon as you are eligible.

Despite this, the rollout of the booster vaccine has sparked debate around the world amongst the vaccine-hesitant. Generally, some people still oppose the vaccine and seem to conflate side effects with adverse effects, and/or believe they simply do not need the vaccine since they’re young and healthy.

The most recent circulating argument against the booster seems to be “if we need booster shots regularly, that means the vaccine doesn’t work”.

Qatar caps price of Rapid Antigen Tests as authorities battle Omicron

However, this is simply not true. Just because there’s a need for a booster, doesn’t mean that the vaccine doesn’t work, it just means that the protection the vaccines provide gradually wear off and need to be “topped up”.

Scientific data has already proved the efficacy of these vaccines and their impact on infections, hospitalizations, and death.

What science has told us so far about the COVID-19 vaccines and the protection they provide is that six to eight months after the second dose of your vaccine, the protection starts to wane off slightly, and the booster shot is then needed to remind and reignite the immune system.

What people don’t really understand is that this is not the first time in medicine that this has happened. In fact, booster shots are quite common, and many vaccines require several doses to render immunity.

The need for a booster shot depends largely on the type of vaccine that is being administered. Most vaccines that don’t contain a live virus typically will require multiple doses or booster shots.

On the other hand, one dose of some live vaccines can offer lifetime long protection against the targeted disease. Other live vaccines may require two doses such as the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccines.

Some types will naturally need several doses to be given overtime to be effective, and the chances are, you’ve most likely received those in your lifetime already. The tetanus vaccine is an example of this.

The tetanus vaccine is a recommended series of immunizations in childhood and adulthood that protect against lockjaw and should be taken every ten years.

Read also: PHCC cancels vacations for doctors as COVID numbers rise in Qatar

Other vaccines are recommended to be taken annually such as the influenza vaccine and the hepatitis A vaccine, which are recommended by the Ministry of Public Health (MOPH) in Qatar to be taken every year starting at 12 months of age.

Other common vaccines that require boosters include:

  • Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine that is administered in 3 doses. It protects against a pneumococcal infection caused by a type of bacteria called pneumococcus that can cause serious life-threatening infections including pneumonia, bacteremia, meningitis, and acute otitis media.
  • Polio vaccine is also given in 3 doses by the age of 18 months, with boosters administered at the age of 4-6 years depending on the type of vaccine used.

Given the fact that the COVID-19 virus and its associated vaccines are still relatively new, scientists are still learning about the duration of the protection provided by these vaccines. With time, we will be able to make extremely accurate predictions that, in turn, lead to better health outcomes.

However, what makes this process harder, is the emergence of the new variants. Whilst the duration of protection depends on several factors, one of them is the rate at which the virus is able to replicate.

If the virus replicates quickly, more variants will arise. As these variants emerge, it makes it ever the more difficult to produce vaccines with lasting immunity as the target will keep moving. When viruses are stable, it gives scientists the advantage of being able to predict lasting immunity.

Measles is an example of a type of stable virus that is unlikely to replicate and, as a result, measles vaccines provide long-lasting immunity. Similarly, smallpox and polio were also highly contagious viruses that were stable and had low mutation rates and so were almost eradicated through immunization.

The most common example of a virus that replicates and mutates frequently is the influenza virus where multiple strains arise every year. It is for this reason that people are recommended to get the flu shot annually as this season’s flu vaccine will offer protection against different strains than the year before or the year after.

The MOPH in Qatar has recently made walk-in booster shots available without a prior appointment due to the recent surge in cases in the country and given the latest developments with the Ehteraz rules.

Everyone is encouraged to take their third dose, and not to forget or neglect the other precautionary measures such as mask-wearing, social distancing, and hand hygiene.


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