Forum: Reconsider expanding booster shot scheme while much of the world still needs first dose

As we transit to living with Covid-19 amid a new wave of infections, an ethical question arises: Are booster shots necessary at this stage? The announcement that the booster programme will be expanded to those aged 50 to 59 suggests so.

World Health Organisation head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said recently that "third doses may be necessary for the most at-risk populations… such as the very small group of immunocompromised people who did not respond sufficiently to their initial doses, or are no longer producing antibodies".

A third dose can thus be seen as the completion of the initial vaccination regime, rather than as a "booster". This, arguably, may also be applied to the elderly.

But that leaves the question of whether those below 60 should receive a third dose unanswered.

In a recent Israeli study, those who received a booster shot had a significantly lower rate of severe illness than those who did not. However, some scientists highlighted that the study was inconclusive in the long term.

Other studies show that the initial doses retain their efficacy against severe illness.

Therefore, the benefits of a third dose do not outweigh the benefits of vaccinating the unvaccinated, argued an international group of scientists.

Dr Tedros has called for a global moratorium on booster doses to be extended.

As our booster programme expands, the Land Transport Authority is assessing the need for bus drivers to receive a third dose. Forum contributor Yu-lin Ooi also called for front-line workers to be included in this expansion (Prioritise front-liners for booster shots, Sept 27).

I urge the Government to reconsider the expansion.

Covid-19 is a strikingly unprecedented test of our capacity for global cooperation.

"An F in ethics" was United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres' assessment of the global vaccination effort. Less than 10 per cent of Africans have yet to receive a first dose, while more than 80 per cent of vaccines have been administered in high- and upper-middle-income countries.

If our pandemic response is any indication of our global cooperation on climate change, then perhaps we are indeed in urgent need of a booster. Not one for the virus, but one for our conscience.

Tan Jun Lin

Join ST's Telegram channel here and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.