Covid-19 Booster Shots: What are they? Should you get them?
By Cless Cheah
There has been much confusion about Covid-19 booster shots, the latest in our line of defense against the virus. Malaysia’s Health Ministry is offering booster shots for free on a voluntary basis to eligible recipients, with priority given to high risk candidates. But is it really necessary to get them?
What is a Booster Shot?
A Covid-19 booster shot is an additional dose of vaccine which is given after the protection initially provided by the original vaccine shots has decreased over time. Booster shots are not something new. We have been giving boosters as part of immunisation schedules for infants and children to protect against other serious diseases such as tetanus and polio.
Aren’t Two Doses of Vaccine Enough?
Vaccinations work by imitating an infection that triggers an immune response within the body. Your body then produces an initial surge of antibodies as part of a response to fight against disease-causing pathogens. However, the amount of antibodies will slowly decrease over time. This is where a booster shot comes in handy to increase the level of antibodies against the pathogens once more. Typically, you would only get a booster after the immunity protection from the initial vaccine doses have fallen to a significant degree.
You are still considered fully vaccinated if you have gotten your first and second vaccine doses.
Who is Eligible for a Booster?
The Health Ministry has approved both Pfizer and Sinovac boosters, but only for adults aged 18 and above who have had their second Covid-19 vaccine shot at least six months ago. Authorities have announced that these shots are not compulsory but are highly recommended for those in vulnerable and high-risk groups. This includes frontliners, those above 60 years of age, and those with comorbidities. Eligible recipients can expect to be notified of the offer to receive these booster shots via MySejahtera or SMS.
Is it Okay to Mix Different Types of Booster and Vaccine Shots?
Based on a safety study, it was recommended to the Special Committee for Ensuring Access to Covid-19 Vaccine Supply (JKJAV) to allow for a heterologous or “mix-and-match” vaccination approach. This approach will allow individuals to receive different brands of vaccine for their booster dose and the initial two vaccine doses.
So, Should You Get a Booster Shot?
Dr Katherine O’Brien, World Health Organization (WHO) Director of the Department of Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals has stated that there is currently little reason for most people to get a booster shot. According to her, “The evidence shows that the vaccines people have received are holding up really well,” in preventing serious disease, hospitalisation, and death. Nevertheless, there is some evidence that a small number of people may need a booster shot. For those who are in the high-risk group, you may want to consider getting a booster shot to be on the safe side.
Eventually, we may all need to get a booster shot at some point in time. But right now, getting as many people fully vaccinated is still a higher priority. And while we are doing that, it is also particularly important for us to keep up with continuing the other methods of reducing the virus transmission. This includes wearing masks, hand-washing, and practising social distancing as much as possible. These efforts, along with the vaccine are crucial in our fight against the virus and its transmission.