Autumn booster vaccine to ward off mutant COVID-19 strains 'possible', say UAE docs

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Health experts in the UAE have said an autumn ‘booster’ or top-up vaccine could be required in the country to combat new COVID-19 variants. It follows comments from a UK minister saying discussions about this for Britain are underway.

Nadhim Zahawi, the UK vaccine minister, said he and Jonathan Van-Tam, the deputy chief medical officer for England, thought that “probably an annual or a booster in the autumn, and then an annual vaccination” would be needed as ministers step up plans for booster jabs against new variants of coronavirus.

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Zahawi this would be done “in the same way we do with flu vaccinations, where you look at what variant of a virus is spreading around the world, you rapidly produce a variant of vaccine, and then begin to vaccinate and protect the nation.”

His comments follow reports that AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford said their vaccine, which has enabled the UK to vastly accelerate its rollout program, has been found to provide only limited protection against mild and moderate disease caused by the South African variant.

The study, which has not been peer-reviewed, was conducted by South Africa’s University of the Witwatersrand and Oxford University. It analyzed the E484K mutation in more than 2,000 people, with most of the participants considered young and healthy.

South Africa suspended plans to inoculate its frontline health care workers vaccine in response to the study’s findings.

In the UAE, Dr Sandeep Pargi, a pulmonology specialist in respiratory medicine at Aster Hospital in Mankhool, said it was possible such a booster jab might be introuduced in the Emirates.

“Yes, a further dose of vaccine may be required after the two recommended doses - mainly because of new mutant strains. Secondly, antibody levels may wean off over a period of time.”

“This is mainly important in vulnerable groups such as elderly and people with co morbidities. Surely we should be prepared for such scenarios, especially with new variants which may be expected apart from UK and South African variant.”

Dr Pargi said the UAE is “very well prepared” for such a scenario.

“We have both a robust health care infrastructure and a proactive government health care department – in fact, we are one of leading nations in providing vaccination to our citizens and residents. I am sure we can handle situations like this.”

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The need for more studies should make it clear if booster shots will help protect the public, other health experts said.

Dr Amaka Kate Uzu, a consultant in family medicine at Bareen International Hospital - MBZ City, said: “The potential for a booster shot later in the year has been in the news following the reports of newly mutated strains discovered in many regions of the world.

“The mutations bringing these new strains of the COVID 19 virus is clearly a concern for the world and as a result of this, scientists and pharmaceutical companies are evaluating the efficacy of the current vaccines to the new variants.

“So far, the information we have is that the vaccines remain effective against severe infection from the new strains studied.

“As more studies are carried out, data will be collected and the need for a booster vaccine or not will be communicated to the public.”

On Sunday, Dr Amer Sharif, head of Dubai’s COVID-19 Command and Control center, said Dubai’s health authorities are on track to administer COVID-19 vaccination to 100 percent of its adult population by the fourth quarter of 2021.

The emirate currently offers the Sinopharm, Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines, all three of which have been approved by the UAE Ministry of Health and Prevention.

Across the UAE, the Emirate’s vaccination program is well underway, with more than four million COVID-19 vaccine doses administered across the country.

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