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Repeated Covid booster doses will not end the pandemic, says WHO

Its experts say vaccines that prevent transmission as well as limit serious illness are needed. We look at what the French health minister has said about a fourth dose

‘A vaccination strategy based on repeated booster doses of the original vaccine composition is unlikely to be appropriate or sustainable,’ said a WHO report Pic: M-Foto / Shutterstock

Vaccine experts from the World Health Organisation have stated that a Covid strategy based on booster doses alone has little chance of successfully combating the pandemic. 

“A vaccination strategy based on repeated booster doses of the original vaccine composition is unlikely to be appropriate or sustainable,” they said in a report published yesterday. 

“While some countries may recommend booster doses of vaccine, the immediate priority for the world is accelerating access to the primary vaccination, particularly for groups at greater risk of developing severe disease.

“Covid-19 vaccines that have high impact on prevention of infection and transmission, in addition to the prevention of severe disease and death, are needed and should be developed.

“Until such vaccines are available, and as the SARS-CoV-2 virus evolves, the composition of current Covid-19 vaccines may need to be updated, to ensure that Covid-19 vaccines continue to provide WHO-recommended levels of protection against infection and disease, including Omicron and future variants,” the experts said. 

Omicron is known to be significantly more transmissible than Delta and is now generally believed to produce milder symptoms.

Read more: Covid hospital stays in France are shorter with Omicron than Delta

However, it is not yet clear whether this reduced virulence is associated with the characteristics of the variant itself or whether it is due to the fact that many of the people now being infected are protected by the Covid vaccine or by a previous infection.

Omicron, whose case numbers are doubling in France every two or three days, has mutations which appear to enable it to reinfect people who have been vaccinated, or who have already had the virus in the past, although these cases are likely to be significantly less serious.

What are France’s booster dose rules? 

Booster doses, as first Covid vaccines, are not obligatory but are being highly recommended by the government.

In addition, from January 15, all adults in France who had their second vaccine dose more than seven months before must have also received their booster dose to avoid their health pass being deactivated. 

Read more: Up to 800,000 French health passes could be deactivated on Saturday

Adults are eligible to receive their booster from three months after their second vaccine dose, and have four additional months in which to go for this third dose. 

However, on February 15, the deadline for receiving a booster will shorten to four months after the second dose 9allowing one month of flexibility). 

People who were initially injected with the single-dose Janssen jab become eligible for their booster one month after their first vaccination and are then given an additional month in which to receive the booster before their health pass is deactivated. 

When a health pass becomes invalid, the certificate will be labelled with an icon reading ‘Expired’ in the TousAntiCovid app wallet. 

You can find out more about booster dose deadlines and the health pass on government information page Service-public.fr.

French Health Minister Olivier Véran said earlier this month that the question of a fourth vaccination dose for the French population was under discussion.

He said: “The question of another vaccine dose will become pertinent quite quickly for the most fragile people in our country; the immunosuppressed and the very elderly.

Read more: Latest on Omicron, hospitals and a possible fourth dose

“The Conseil d’orientation de la stratégie vaccinale [advisory body on vaccination strategy] must share its advice on the subject and we have also appealed to the Haute Autorité de Santé [health service quality regulator] on the question of a fourth dose.” 

These organisations will give recommendations on whether an additional dose should be rolled out to vulnerable people when the protection offered by the third dose begins to wane.

We note that people having had a booster dose are shown as having a certificate which expires in seven months and two days on the French Covid app.

Related articles

Does ‘fully vaccinated’ include booster jabs under French rules?

Covid France: Delta variant is not disappearing despite Omicron surge

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