Health authorities will begin administering Covid-19 vaccine booster shots for high-risk individuals this week.
The announced rollout of a third Covid-19 vaccine shot has sparked a debate online, with many questioning whether the booster vaccine will become mandatory for all as health officials moved to quell concerns.
On Sunday, Chair of the National Health Strategic Group on Covid-19 Dr. Abdullatif Al Khal appeared on local Qatar TV to answer some of the most asked questions, including whether the third shot is safe for administering.
“Recent clinical experiments have shown that the side effects from the third dose are similar or may be less than the side effects after the second dose, so there is no need to worry about taking the booster shot,” said Dr. Al Khal said.
The top health official urged all those deemed vulnerable to take the third dose as soon as possible to avoid a decrease in antibodies.
“Scientific evidence shows that the level of antibodies begins to decrease eight months after taking the second dose. This is why the Ministry of Public Health has decided to administer the booster dose,” he said.
The move has already been seen in several countries around the world, with many expected to follow suit.
“It is expected that the booster dose will give a long-term protection that may extend to many months, or up to a year. It has been clinically proven that those who take the third dose have more antibodies than they had after the second dose.”
The booster shot enhances the immune system and protects the body from the highly contagious Delta variant.
“The scientific laboratory studies have proven that the immunity achieved after the third dose is very effective against all strains, including the Delta strain,” he noted.
Currently, severe cases of Covid-19 in hospitals and ICUs include those who are unvaccinated, he warned, noting this could could have been prevented if patients had taken the vaccine previously.
“I would also like to remind everyone the importance of preventive measures, because although most people from the population are vaccinated, the Delta strain has the ability to infect even the vaccinated people,” he warned.
As it stands, several countries around the world are currently facing severe cases of Covid-19 mainly due to the Delta strain. In case of non-compliance with precautionary measures, similar scenes could be witnessed here in Qatar.
“Qatar’s National Vaccination Program is very successful. We were able in a short period to cover the majority of the population, as 77% of the population has so far taken two doses of the vaccine and 9 out of 10 people have taken at least one dose,” said Dr. Al Khal.
Qatar social media users react
News of the third booster shot triggered discussions online with many questioning whether it would become mandatory for travel purposes.
In a Twitter poll posted by one social media user, 33.3% of some 192 participants said they will only take the vaccine if it becomes a requirement to engage in particular activities.
Some 24% said they will not take the shot under any condition, while approximately the same percentage of voters said they would take it immediately.
Meanwhile, 18% said they will only take the vaccine if it becomes mandatory for travel purposes.
In line with the latest developments, Qatar’s track and trace Ehteraz app has been updated with an additional column showing information for the third dose.
The vaccine page on the mobile app now shows whether the user has taken the third dose, as well as the date of administration.
Authorities have already warned those who do not take the third booster shot 12 months after taking their second dose would lose their golden “golden vaccinated” status on the Ehteraz app.
As per the current restrictions in Qatar, the golden status is mandatory for those using public facilities, including restaurants.
In late August, MoPH approved the use of a third dose of Covid-19 vaccines for those with immunodeficiency diseases, noting these individuals may not get the level of immunity from a two-dose vaccine series compared to people who are not immunocompromised.
The immune response of vulnerable individuals to the initial vaccine shots could have weakened over time, it said.
The first phase of the booster programme will focus on specific groups, including those over 65 years of age and vulnerable people with chronic conditions that increase their risk of a severe Covid-19 infection, as well as frontline healthcare workers and other sectors.
Further phases of the programme will include a wider selection of society.
The move comes after recent clinical evidence revealed, for most people, that protective immunity obtained from their primary two vaccine doses gradually starts to decline after an eight month period.
The booster dose will aid individuals by significantly increasing their antibody levels against the virus and providing higher levels of protection against the different variants.