“All vaccines prevent severe Covid”
Following initial lab reports that AstraZeneca and VeroCell boosters afford lower or no protection against the new Omicron strain, Nepal Times reached out to Andrew Pollard, who helped develop the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccines.
Majority of the vaccinated Nepalis have been administered either with the Chinese VeroCell or the AstraZeneca Covishield manufactured in India. At least 12.2 million Nepalis (42% of the population) have got at least one dose of vaccine, and 9.7 million have got both jabs (33% of population).
Of these 28.5% got the Covishield and 62.1% got the VeroCell which are vector vaccines made from disabled viruses, as per the government figures last updated 18 November. Another 9.2% got J&J. Less than 4,000 have received Pfizer or Moderna which are genetically engineered mRNA vaccines.
Nepal currently has nearly 14 million vaccines in stock and wants to fully vaccinate 40% of the population before offering booster shots by the end of the month.
Excerpts of the conversation with Andrew Pollard:
Read also: “Nepal has all the conditions for an Omicron surge”, Nepali Times
Nepali Times: Is it true that AstraZeneca boosters are not as effective against Omicron?
Andrew Pollard: The new coronavirus is here to stay and it will remain with us for decades to come. To do this is will find ways to continue to infect people in communities even if they are vaccinated. The important role of the vaccines is to prevent severe disease and the evidence so far, even with Omicron, does appear to indicate that vaccines are still holding up in preventing most of the severe outcomes.
New variants are able to cause asymptomatic or mild disease in vaccinated people with any of the vaccines that are being used around the world, and Omicron is the champion so far in doing this. But vaccines remain highly effective in preventing severe disease from all variants and make us a lot safer than if we are unvaccinated.
Is the negative publicity likely to increase vaccine hesitancy in Nepal, and fuel the pandemic even more?
I think the interpretation of the data is wrong. The evidence is clear, vaccines have already saved millions of lives. A recent analysis showed that AstraZeneca jabs have saved more lives than any other vaccines worldwide.
Viral evolution means that Omicron and its children will evade immune responses and allow infections with any of the vaccines. At this moment, Omicron can cause infection whether you have had AstraZeneca or Pfizer with very low protection from both of them. However, the vaccines still prevent severe disease.
Read also: Living with Covid in 2022, Sonia Awale
What options Nepal and India can pursue to stop the spread of Omicron?
The impact of first/second doses is huge and these should be prioritised over boosters where there is a short supply of doses. Omicron spreads very easily and so it is more likely that the virus will find the unvaccinated and put them at risk, so we do need to get vaccine coverage high everywhere but especially in older adults and those with health conditions who have not yet been vaccinated as they are at greatest risk.
Is it time to administer booster doses, and if so, who should get it first?
Boosters do seem to increase antibodies and some early evidence from the UK shows that boosters increase protection against these mild infections. Boosters may be important for some of the frailest in our communities to keep them safe if their protection has waned. Some countries have started booster programs focusing on these risk groups first.
Read also: Nepal needs to prepare for new Covid wave, Cilo Bazakas