Omicron, boosters and vaccine ageism.
By Peter Lloyd-Sherlock, Soumitra Ghosh and Aravinda Guntupalli
In the wake of the rapid global spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, it is understandable that people of all ages are anxious to protect themselves as much as possible. There is clear evidence that, for people who have already received two doses of vaccine, having a third, “booster” dose three or more months later can substantially increase Omicron immunity (Lusvarghi et al, 2021). The rush to get boosted is as evident in low and middle-income countries as in high-income ones. For example, on 6 January 2022 the Thai prime minister urged all those who are eligible for boosters (people who had already received two doses by 1 November 2021) to get them immediately, and the Thai government is already planning for key workers and vulnerable groups to be given a fourth dose.
At first sight, this appears to be an impressively robust policy response. Yet in countries like Thailand, large numbers of older people are yet to receive a second dose of vaccine and some have not even received a first one. As of 28 December 2021, fewer than 40 per cent of Thais people aged 60 or more had received at least two doses.
The case of Thailand is far from exceptional. In the case of India, third doses are now being rolled out to a number of categories including “frontline workers” and they will soon be made available to anyone aged 15 or over. Yet millions of older people in India are yet to receive a second or even first dose. The risk of dying or becoming seriously ill from all forms of COVID-19 increases exponentially from the age of 60. Focussing on multiple vaccines for younger people while leaving those at far greater risk is an unjustifiable form of ageism and will lead to many avoidable deaths.
Lusvarghi S, Pollett SD, Neerukonda SN, Wang W, Wang R, et al. SARS-CoV-2 Omicron neutralization by therapeutic antibodies, convalescent sera, and post-mRNA vaccine booster. bioRxiv [Preprint]. 2021 Dec 28:2021.12.22.473880. doi: 10.1101/2021.12.22.473880. PMID: 34981057; PMCID: PMC8722594.