Covid-19 vaccines: Latest on when Pfizer and J&J booster shots will likely be rolled out

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  • Booster doses for adults who received the two-dose Pfizer vaccine have been approved.
  • This will likely become available to people in the new year.
  • Those who received the J&J vaccine will also soon be eligible for a booster shot of the same vaccine.

People in South Africa will soon be able to receive a booster dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Johnson & Johnson (J&J) Covid-19 vaccine, the department of health said on Friday.

A third (booster) dose of the Pfizer vaccine was approved for use in adults, the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra) said on Wednesday.

The booster dose will be given six months after an individual has received their second dose.

The first qualifiers for booster doses in South Africa will be people aged 60 years and older. While they will be eligible for a booster shot from 28 December, the department plans to launch this rollout in January 2022.

Evidence of waning immunity supports boosters

“We do not envisage introducing a major new programme on New Year’s Day or thereabout,” said Dr Nicholas Crisp, acting director-general of the National Department of Health during a media briefing.

“So from January 2022, once the VMAC (Vaccine Ministerial Advisory Committee) has aligned with this approval, we will get the recommendation and plan the appropriate rollout of boosters at that time.”

Crisp said that the approval of boosters was based on “good evidence that antibodies do wane after a period,” although people may still have cellular immunity (known as T cells) that continues to protect them against severe Covid-19 disease.

J&J boosters

Booster shots of the J&J vaccine are currently only being offered to healthcare workers as part of the Sisonke 2 study.  This offer will end on 17 December. 

Just over 208 000 health workers have already received their booster shots – almost half of those who received their initial dose as part of Sisonke 1, said Crisp.

As for the rest of South Africans who received the J&J vaccine, a booster dose will likely become available to them soon.

Sahpra expediting process of J&J booster

“Sahpra is very familiar with this vaccine and very familiar with the data,” said Crisp. 

There is also a recent World Health Organisation review available which supports the administration of J&J vaccine booster doses, he added.

Crisp said that Sahpra has received the data package relating to booster doses from J&J, and will be expediting the review over the weekend so that recommendations for its rollout can be finalised next week.

“And once we have that information, the VMAC is on standby to make recommendations and we anticipate that we will be ready for vaccination of boosters for J&J, if not next week, then probably the week after, depending on the timing of the various outcomes of these committees’ approval. 

“By the time we break for the Christmas period, it looks like we will be able to get all the vaccines rolling out,” said Crisp.

Second dose offered for children aged 12-17 years 

The department officially announced this week that adolescents aged 12-17 years are now able to receive their second dose of the Pfizer vaccine.

Sahpra approved the second dose in this age group at least six weeks ago, said Crisp, but at that stage, the ministerial advisory committee were still reviewing international data on reports of myocarditis (heart inflammation) in mostly male adolescents who had received their second dose.

Since then, there has been a large amount of data and reports gathered by specialists in the committee, and they have established that the myocarditis rate after vaccination is more or less the same as the myocarditis rate within the general population, meaning there is no increased risk associated with the second dose.

He added:

However, they did find there was a massive increase in myocarditis in young adolescents who get Covid infection.

Individuals with severe immunocompromised conditions in this age group are also eligible to receive an additional (third) dose of the Pfizer vaccine. This additional dose can be given 28 days after the second dose and will be provided under the referral of a clinician, said Crisp.

*For more Covid-19 research, science and news, click here. You can also sign up for our Daily Dose newsletter here.

READ | Covid-19 vaccines: Children aged 12 to 17 can now get second Pfizer shot

READ | Covid-19 booster shots in SA: When can you get one, which vaccine, and other things we know so far

READ | Omicron: How the Covid virus mutates and creates new variants – a virologist explains

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