Despite opposition from the World Health Organisation (WHO), which for multiple reasons has been objecting to offering booster doses of Covid-19 vaccine anywhere in the world, the Sindh health department on Thursday announced that it would give a booster dose of Pfizer’s mRNA Covid-19 vaccine to its healthcare workers, who have already been vaccinated with Chinese or European vaccines, to enhance their immunity against the viral infection.
“Due to constant exposure to patients in hospitals, all the healthcare workers are at a greater risk of contracting Covid-19. To reduce the infection rate among healthcare workers and to enhance their immunity, it has been decided to inoculate all healthcare workers of Sindh with an additional dose of Pfizer vaccine free of charge,” Dr Sohail Raza Shaikh, senior technical officer of the Sindh health department, wrote in a letter sent to the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) on Thursday.
Officials in the Sindh health department told The News that they were ‘under tremendous pressure’ from healthcare workers who wanted a booster dose of the Pfizer vaccine after the NCOC allowed booster doses to the travellers at a cost of Rs1,270.
“Healthcare workers were demanding a booster dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, preferably the Pfizer or Moderna’s vaccine, after the NCOC allowed such doses for the travellers on payment. They argue that due to continuous exposure to the patients, many of whom could be asymptomatic Covid-19 patients, they could contract the viral infection so they needed enhanced immunity with a booster dose,” an official of the NCOC said.
Infectious diseases specialist Dr Azizullah Dhiloo at the Civil Hospital Karachi said healthcare workers, especially those dealing with Covid-19 patients, deserved an additional dose or booster of mRNA vaccine as they were having ‘breakthrough infections’ which meant that despite getting both the doses of conventional vaccines, they were will still getting infected with the novel coronavirus.
“We are aware of the fact that millions of people have not yet been able to get the first dose of the vaccine but this is not due to unavailability of vaccine but due to people’s own reluctance to get themselves vaccinated. So instead of waiting for them to get inoculated, it would be advisable to give a booster dose to healthcare workers who are at a risk of getting breakthrough infections,” Dr Dhiloo said.
He maintained that many healthcare workers, including those who were directly dealing with COVID-19 patients as well as others who were treating the non-Covid patients, were contracting the viral infection from their patients despite having both the doses of vaccines. He added that in these circumstances, the healthcare workers deserved an additional vaccine dose.
On the other hand, leading public health expert Dr Shahzad Ali Khan said neither the WHO nor the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention of the United States had recommended any additional dose for anybody in the world. He added that there was still no science behind the theory that a third dose would enhance the immunity of already-vaccinated people.
“This issue of giving a booster dose to healthcare workers has already been raised in the NCOC on several occasions but Special Assistant to Prime Minister Dr Faisal Sultan and other experts say that unless a large population of common people has been given at least one dose of the vaccine, it will not be advisable to give a third dose to already-vaccinated people,” remarked Dr Shahzad, who is the vice chancellor of the Health Services Academy, Islamabad.
He was, however, of the opinion that the authorities could bow to the pressure from healthcare workers from other provinces after Sindh started inoculating its healthcare staff with a booster dose. He said the issue might be taken up in the regular meeting of the NCOC today (Friday).