Source: No need for COVID-19 booster shots: WHO – NewsDay Zimbabwe
BY MIRIAM MANGWAYA
THE World Health Organisation (WHO) says there is no evidence to support claims that administering COVID-19 booster shots for the whole population will provide greater protection against the recently detected Omicron variant.
The Zimbabwe government has directed frontline workers and people with chronic diseases to get COVID-19 booster shots with immediate effect, saying that this would strengthen their immunity against the Omicron virus.
COVID-19 new infections in the country have been rising steadily, from 255 on Monday last week, 399 on Tuesday and 712 on Wednesday. They spiked to 1 042 on Thursday, 1 062 on Friday and 1 082 on Saturday.
“Right now, there is no evidence that I am aware of that suggests that boosting the entire population is going to necessarily provide greater protection for otherwise healthier individuals against hospitalisation and death,” WHO head of emergencies programme, Michael Ryan said.
“Otherwise the real risk of severe disease hospitalisation and death lies in particularly vulnerable individuals who require protection against the variants of COVID-19.”
But countries such as Germany, the United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia, among others recommended booster shots for their citizens who were fully vaccinated ahead of the fourth wave of COVID-19.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa on Friday said there were enough vaccines in stock to cater for both full vaccination and booster shots, while addressing a gathering in Barbourfields Stadium in Bulawayo.
As at Saturday, 3 865 287 people had been vaccinated with the first dose, while 2 876 056 were fully vaccinated.
Local health experts, however, said it was imperative for COVID-19 frontline workers to get booster shots to avoid more deaths due to the deadly virus.
Zimbabwe Nurses Association president Enock Dongo said due to the inefficient health system in the country, booster shots would prevent further deaths of frontline health workers.
“In between the fourth and the third waves of the pandemic, we witnessed a mass exodus of nurses and, therefore, the health institutions are understaffed. We do not want to take chances. We can’t afford to lose more health workers to the virus, or have some failing to report for duty because they have been hospitalised. The booster shot is the readily available measure that has so far been implemented by the government to ensure that workers are protected from the newly-detected variant. If the available nurses are affected and we have lesser staff, then there will be a catastrophe in health institutions,” Dongo said.
Medical and Dental Private Practitioners Association of Zimbabwe president Johannes Marisa said: “From the experiences of the previous waves, health workers now know that the COVID-19 virus is deadly. They are ready to get the booster shot. That is very commendable because we do not want to see the health workers dying from COVID-19 anymore.”
Marisa said the third dose of COVID-19 vaccines was ideal as more viscous variants were continuously emerging.
“Some have been fully vaccinated for about 10 months, hence the booster shot is necessary. If frontline workers are wholly protected, then we will face the virus head-on and the battle can be easily won.”
Community Working Group on Health executive director Itai Rusike said while booster shots were necessary, there was need to consider the availability of the vaccines and ensure balance between booster shots and full vaccination.
“Zimbabwe is supposed to expand its COVID-19 daily vaccination trend before we can start administering additional booster shots as we still have a lot of people that are eligible to be vaccinated, but are yet to get their first jab. We need to increase and accelerate the number of people that are fully vaccinated by coming up with encouraging and innovative messaging into the communities to create demand for the COVID-19 vaccine before we can start giving the booster shots as a way of addressing vaccine equity and solidarity.”