People with weakened immune system to get third coronavirus dose

People with weakened immune system to get third coronavirus dose
Credit: Belga

People with a weakened immune system as a result of a certain disease or treatment will get a third dose of a coronavirus vaccine in Belgium.

The Interministerial Conference on Public Health (IMC) came to the decision on Wednesday, following a report by the Health Care Knowledge Centre (KCE) and the vaccination task force which found an extra shot "seems to make sense".

"The administering of the third shot will be organised in our vaccination centres in the coming months," Flemish Health minister Wouter Beke announced on Twitter.

Around  300,000 and 400,000 people will receive the classical 'booster' dose for vaccination, which is administered at least six months after the last dose of the basic vaccination.

The first rollout of the additional shot will focus on immunocompromised individuals, and not on the elderly, as there are not yet published results of studies for this age group, according to the recent report.

In Israel a booster campaign among elderly started last month after preliminary evidence showed that the vaccine’s effectiveness is decreasing by time among those 60 and older. Since then, a million people have received a third shot of the Pfizer vaccine with good results. Booster shots had already been given to people with suppressed immune systems due to underlying conditions.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) confirmed in beginning of August that it has not yet issued recommendations on booster vaccinations for COVID-19 “given the current lack of evidence that boosters are currently required as a measure for the general population”

In a written response to The Brussels Times, the agency wrote that it will continue to follow the emerging scientific evidence closely, including on the duration of protective immunity that vaccines confer overall and for specific vulnerable groups, for the current variants of concern and any others that might emerge in the future.

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"This shot could be given to this particular group starting from September, but the operational details still need to be worked out," Gudrun Briat of the vaccination task force told the Brussels Times.

Who is included in this group?

According to the report published on Wednesday, and based on the current knowledge from relevant studies, the following people would be eligible for a third dose in the coming months:

  • Patients with congenital immune disorders
  • Patients on chronic renal dialysis
  • HIV-patients (under 200 CD4 T-cells per mm3, these are white blood cells that are very important for the immune system)
  • Patients with blood cancer or other malignant tumours who have been on active treatment in recent years
  • Stem cell transplant and organ transplant patients
  • Patients with inflammatory diseases who are treated with immunosuppressants

The report stressed that a stepwise roll-out to additional risk groups is possible "but must at each step be supported by sound international and national research and evolving insights, based on evidence."

For the elderly, the vaccination task force recommends waiting for the planned analyses of breakthrough infections and the results of clinical studies on the third injection in the coming weeks.

Both groups stressed the continued importance of giving as many people in Belgium, both adults and those over 12 years old, the basic vaccination (one or two shots depending on the vaccine) and reiterated the importance of ventilation, social distancing, and face masks.

The original article was updated to include the decision made during the IMC of Public Health on Wednesday.

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