Covid-19: Omicron, fourth wave – experts beg health workers to get their J&J booster shots

  • Two experts are encouraging healthcare workers to make themselves available for a booster dose of the Covid-19 vaccine before December 17.
  • The booster dose of J&J provides a strong “supplement” to the immune system, she said.
  • SA has seen a rapid increase in cases and may soon enter a fourth wave.

Healthcare workers in South Africa are strongly encouraged to receive their booster shots of the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) Covid-19 vaccine as South Africa heads into its fourth wave of infections.

Covid-19 cases have increased rapidly in parts of the country. This, after the Department of Health and scientists announced the detection of a worrying new variant, Omicron, last week.

Speaking to Health24, Professor Linda-Gail Bekker, co-investigator of Sisonke 1 and 2 trials, said that a booster dose would make a significant difference and give the immune system a boost.

“What we do know is that the single dose works very well to protect against illness and death. But this extra dose really gives extra protection,” she said.

The Covid-19 is not over

The importance of health workers increased dramatically during the pandemic as they are at the forefront of the fight against the disease.

Bekker said:

We want our healthcare professionals to be as protected as possible, so we really want them to take this opportunity so that we know they have the best protection. It seems like a very important thing to do, especially since Covid does not appear to be over for South Africa from afar.

South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra) board chair, Professor Helen Rees, also told Health24 that “certainly two doses of J&J vaccine provide much more protection than one. dose”.

“It is extremely important that we protect our healthcare workers first, as they are obviously on the front lines and have a higher risk of exposure.

“We also have the Omicron variant now, which we don’t yet know how sensitive it will be to the existing vaccines we have. So what we’re telling everyone is get vaccinated – if you don’t. haven’t been vaccinated at all – but get boosted ASAP. “

Two doses provide strong protection

Bekker added: “Two doses of J&J really provide excellent protection according to the data from SET 2 – the clinical trial – and therefore, on that basis, we want to provide the best protection for our healthcare workers.”

Rees agreed, warning that if health workers, who received their first dose of the J&J vaccine in February, do not receive a booster, several things can happen in the face of the fourth wave.

“[They] are going to put themselves in danger. Second, they will put their patients at risk if they get infected and pass it on to other patients.

“Remember that many hospital patients are not there because they are Covid patients. They are there for other serious reasons. So they are going to put these patients at risk,” she said. .

Rees added that healthcare workers were seen as role models for the community and should encourage others to get vaccinated as well, because they understand the science and clinical benefits of vaccines.

Setting not fast enough

Booster doses of the single-dose J&J vaccine became available from November 8 for the 494,424 healthcare workers who received their initial dose in the first phase of the Sisonke trial.

On November 25, Bekker said about 100,000 health workers had received their booster shots. She said: “We are now over 100,000 which is a great step forward, but that means we still have 400,000 to go. So we are very happy that people are starting to move forward, but with the fourth wave coming. We really encourage people to go fast. “

Boosters needed for other diseases

She warned that there might be a feeling of complacency among health workers.

“I think people thought they just needed this dose and it was done. So I think there is a bit of disappointment that hasn’t gone away,” she added.

“What you have to reassure is that there are other diseases, such as the flu, for which you have to be vaccinated every year. So it’s not completely unheard of and we don’t not yet know if we’re going to need more doses after this boost. Maybe that’s going to hold us back for a while, so we’ll have to see, “she said.

December deadline

According to Bekker, the Sisonke 2 study will end on December 17.

Study co-investigator Professor Glenda Gray previously said the team aimed to provide the government with important evidence on the effectiveness of the booster dose in health workers, as well as the time between the first dose and the booster dose. .

Bekker commented: “So there is some urgency, and that is so that we can conclude this study and report the results to the Ministry of Health.”

What data from Sisonke 1 revealed

The results of the Sisonke 1 study indicated 85% protection against Covid-19-related deaths, compared to unvaccinated people.

“And that was facing the Delta wave and the third wave. It’s important to know that,” Bekker said.

Data from Sisonke 1 showed that where there were infections among healthcare workers, the majority were asymptomatic (no symptoms) or were mild cases, Bekker said in September.

Waiting for SMS

Healthcare workers should wait for an SMS invitation with a link to the online consent form. They then need to read and complete the form to receive the booster dose of J&J and participate in Sisonke 2, Bekker said. The process is very simple, she added.

“It’s very easy to consent, and then they’ll get a voucher number that starts with BD (for booster dose). If they go to the site with this good comic and their identity booklet, it will take a few minutes because there are many more sites across the country and the wait is really very short, so it’s convenient. “she said.

Will a Pfizer booster be available?

The Pfizer booster is a possibility going forward, but it’s unclear when that will happen, Bekker said. Sahpra’s approval will be required before it can be deployed.

She said:

What I am seeing are the numbers increasing in the country, and what we have on hand at the moment is the J&J and so if you want to be recharged and well protected before the fourth wave then go with it. what is in hand.

Rees added that Sahpra had not received a submission from vaccine manufacturers for evaluating the use of Pfizer’s vaccine as a booster, after a single dose of J&J.

Bekker added: “This notion that J&J is inferior [to Pfizer] has no scientific basis, and so we want to inform people that this is not an inferior option and that is the option that is available now, so the recommendation is to go for it. “

What about others who have received J&J?

Rees believes that anyone who has received a single dose of J&J should receive a second dose. This includes essential workers, such as teachers.

“Sahpra spoke to Johnson & Johnson so we could get the data from them, which they are producing through clinical trials, on the benefits of a second dose,” Rees said.

This data could then lead Sahpra to approve a second dose for people outside of the Sisonke 2 study.

“Hopefully once we have this data we can look at second dose approval for everyone who received a single dose,” she said.

An opportunity to strengthen the immune system

It is very important that healthcare professionals are as well protected as possible before the next resurgence, urged Bekker.

“This is an opportunity to supplement their immune protection and we strongly recommend that people take this opportunity as quickly as they can,” she said.

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