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New COVID-19 boosters to protect against Eris & Pirola variants: Why should those with co-morbid conditions take a booster? A doctor explains | Health and Wellness News

A strain-specific booster shot can help co-morbid patients significantly. Meanwhile this category of patients should take the pneumonia and flu shots, which can reduce the overall burden of respiratory illnesses and prevent complications that could weaken the immune system, says Dr Suranjit Chatterjee, Senior Consultant, Internal Medicine at Indraprastha Apollo Hospital

covid-19, covid-19 vaccineThe vaccine approved as booster shots is similar to previously approved formula but has been updated to target the XBB variants that became prevalent last winter. (Source: Freepik)

In the United States, Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 booster shots have been recommended to guard against new variants, potentially preventing a winter surge. The USFDA has confirmed their efficacy against recent variants like Eris and Pirola. Like seasonal flu vaccines, COVID-19 shots may require periodic updates, the US FDA has recommended.

In India, despite fewer COVID-19 cases, doctors suggest strain-specific boosters, especially for those with co-morbid health conditions. Dr Suranjit Chatterjee, Senior Consultant at Indraprastha Apollo Hospital, advocates prioritising newer vaccines for boosters over older ones for a wiser health strategy.

With winter months ahead, which can possibly see a surge in COVID-19 cases, do we need booster shots too?

COVID-19 is like influenza, and we take updated flu shots annually to factor in mutations and variants. So, we will need updated booster shots because the immunity acquired from the older variants of the virus and the vaccine intended to tackle them will wear off. The influenza vaccine is updated every year and since Covid mutates rapidly, we need updated boosters.

Will boosters help patients with co-morbidities?

Even a minor infection in a person with comorbid conditions can be more lethal. So it is very important that people with co-morbidities and the immune-compromised should take the shots. That includes people who are over 65, pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems or battling chronic conditions such as obesity, advanced diabetes or kidney disease. The shot is not as urgent among younger people at this point in time.

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Can existing vaccines still provide immunity?

The virus strain has changed altogether. I would not recommend the present vaccines as booster shots right now. But people who have had Covid earlier and took vaccines are still carrying some immunity. That’s why we are seeing a lesser number of infections. But the available vaccine as booster shots now may not be as effective. Even for influenza, we have seen that vaccines against the present strain are more effective than the older strains.

Should India get an Omicron-specific vaccine?

Yes, we should try a strain-specific vaccine. Those being used in the US are shields against both the earlier strain and the BA.5 but vaccines in India have been formulated to fight the ancestral strain. So one needs to look at the risk-benefit analysis given our numbers and vaccine efficacy but we should also look at our co-morbid population.

Would you need a booster shot if you have recently had Covid?

It’s the same as before, you would have to wait three months before you get a booster shot in such a scenario. The US CDC says you can get a flu vaccine and a Covid booster shot during the same visit. To begin with, we should at least get an updated flu and pneumonia shot every year. Although pneumonia and flu shots are designed to protect against specific pathogens, they can have broader benefits for public health by reducing the overall burden of respiratory illnesses and preventing complications that could weaken the immune system.

First published on: 15-09-2023 at 1:19 PM IST

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