If you’re 60 and older, you can expect to get the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine booster shot in January.
This, according to Dr Nicholas Crisp, the deputy director general of the department of health.
A third dose of a Covid-19 vaccine boosts the body’s immune response against the virus, explains the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) specialist scientist Professor Ameena Goga.
“No one is safe until everyone is safe,” she warns.
The South African Health Products Authority (SAHPRA) also approved the use of the booster shot in people aged 12 and older who are severely immunocompromised, to be administered at least 28 days after the second dose.
“It is important to note that respiratory viruses like the coronavirus are not curable we just need to control and manage them. Due to the small number of cases attributed to the Omicron variant it is unclear if infections with this variant are associated with more severe disease.”
Boosters are safe
According to infectious disease specialist Dr Jantjie Taljaard everyone who has been vaccinated (Pfizer or J&J) should get a booster shot.
“Current recommendation is 6 months after the previous dose. Children 12-17 years old who received a single Pfizer shot must go for their second jab 6 weeks (42 days) later.”
Health For Mzansi asked Taljaard a few of your questions:
Why should I get vaccinated if the vaccine already needs a booster shot to protect me? Does this mean that vaccines are not effective if I have to keep going back for more shots?
Vaccines are very effective in preventing hospitalisation and death from Covid-19. It is only moderately effective in preventing infection. The need for boosters is because the immunity gained from vaccination (and natural infection) wanes over time. The exact best time for a booster dose is not yet determined and the current recommendation is to get it 6 months after your last dose.
Will the booster shot protect me against Omicron?
Yes, early indications are that it will still protect against severe disease and death. It may however be less effective against infection compared to the Delta variant.
Is it safe to mix and match vaccines?
Real-life experience from countries like Canada and Germany suggests that one can effectively and safely mix and match vaccines. The data on this is however not adequate yet for the regulatory authorities to officially endorse the practice. More safety data is required.
But what if I’m immunocompromised? Does the timing of the third shot differ?
There is a list of immunocompromised condition where the recommendation is to get your booster earlier (6 weeks rather than 6 months). The reasons for this is that immunocompromised persons may have a poorer immune response to vaccination and their immunity may also wane faster. Additionally they are at increased risk of getting severe Covid-19.
But are the booster shots safe?
Booster shots are very safe. Large clinical studies and real life experience has shown that it is very safe with minimal side-effects.
When you will get your booster
Meanwhile Crisp said the department had set its sights on dates after New Years Day.
“From January, once the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Vaccines (VMAC) has aligned with this approval, we will get the recommendation and plan the appropriate rollout of boosters at that time,” he said.
He said the over 60s will be the first in line to receive the boosters. Crisp also revealed that the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) booster shots will now be available to the public after they were initially distributed to the healthcare workers under the Sisonke Study.
According to the department’s data, since the start of the Sisonke programme, over 200 000 second doses of the J&J vaccines have been distributed to healthcare workers who took part in the original study.