By Asmau Ahmad
An advisory group to the World Health Organisation (WHO) has recommended an additional shot of approved COVID-19 vaccines for people with weak immune systems.
The recommendation followed a four-day meeting of the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) on Immunisation and a final report that will be issued in December.
SAGE said moderately and severely immunocompromised persons should be offered an additional dose of all WHO-approved vaccines “since these individuals are less likely to respond adequately to vaccination following a standard primary vaccine series and are at high risk of severe COVID-19 disease.”
People aged 60 and older, who received the Sinovac and Sinopharm vaccines, should get a third dose too, the experts added, though the use of other vaccines may also be considered, depending on supply and access.
The group recommended that when implementing the recommendation, “countries should initially aim at maximising two-dose coverage in that population, and thereafter administer the third dose, starting in the oldest age groups.”
In the meantime, SAGE has also reviewed a vaccine developed by Indian company Bharat Biotech and will issue a policy recommendation after WHO greenlights it for emergency use.
WHO last week announced a plan to end the COVID-19 pandemic by ensuring all people, everywhere, have access to vaccines.
The global COVID-19 Vaccination Strategy calls for inoculating 40 per cent of people in all countries by the end of the year, and 70 per cent by the middle of 2022.
The strategy takes a three-step approach to vaccination. Priority is given to older people, health workers and high-risk groups of all ages, followed by adults and then adolescents.
SAGE, together with another WHO advisory group on malaria, have also reviewed evidence on the world’s first malaria vaccine, which is geared to children.
The experts recommended that the RTS,S/AS01 vaccine be used in areas with moderate to high transmission of the disease, following the ongoing pilot programme in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi in which more than 800,0000 children were inoculated since 2019.
Malaria is transmitted by infected mosquitoes and can be fatal. Children under five are among those at the higher risk of the disease.
In 2019, malaria cases stood at approximately 229 million worldwide, with roughly 409,000 deaths, according to WHO data. Children under five accounted for 274,000 deaths, or around 67 per cent of the cases.