Should SA consider employing unused vaccines as booster shots? Expert says it would be hypocritical

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  • The Department of Health says that unused vaccines are not meant to be used as booster shots.
  • Experts add that booster shots should only be an option for selected risk groups.
  • Vaccines should, however, be used before they expire.

Last week, the Department of Health announced that South Africa has almost 19 million Covid-19 vaccines in stock.

The department told Health24 that it may use a small number of these vaccines for a heterologous booster trial for healthcare workers but will not yet be using the vaccines for booster shots – because it is more important that people get their first shot.

"Once a decision is made on booster shots, we won't spare them but use them for both first and booster shots. Although we didn't procure these for booster shots, our plan is to ensure that by the time a decision to provide a booster shot for the general public is made, at the majority of the target population would have received at least the first shot," said the department's spokesperson Foster Mohale.

Booster shots for the vulnerable 

However, some experts say that the government should consider using some of these vaccines as booster shots for vulnerable groups.

"I think it's dreadful to let them expire. I definitely would offer the boosters to anyone over 60 and those with co-morbidities," said infectious disease expert Prof Francios Venter.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Research and Innovation at the University of KwaZulu-Natal Prof Mosa Moshabela has the same sentiments as Venter. He cautions that "hoarding" unused vaccines is hypocritical.

"We are sitting with a challenge that we may have to face up to some vaccines expiring. And we have fought so hard to get vaccines in South Africa. Since like a year ago, maybe more.

"We fought so hard internationally as a country to advocate for vaccines to be available not just in South Africa but in Africa but also for the intellectual property rights to be waived so that we can have vaccines and increase access to vaccines. We can then not be the same country that's going to be doing what we've been accusing Western countries to be doing, which is hoarding vaccines," he explains.

Moshabela suggests that the country gives some of the vaccines to countries running short of vaccines and asks suppliers for delivery only when people are ready to be vaccinated.

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

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