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Booster doses of current Covid-19 vaccines may not be enough, warns WHO

File photo: Western Cape Health MEC Nomafrench Mbombo wth James Hlohla at the Khayelitsha Day Hospital during the start of the booster vaccine programme. Picture: Leon Lestrade. African News Agency/ANA.

File photo: Western Cape Health MEC Nomafrench Mbombo wth James Hlohla at the Khayelitsha Day Hospital during the start of the booster vaccine programme. Picture: Leon Lestrade. African News Agency/ANA.

Published Jan 12, 2022

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GENEVA - The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday that current Covid-19 vaccines may need to be updated if they are to provide continued protection against emerging variants, including Omicron.

WHO's Technical Advisory Group on Covid 19 Vaccine Composition (TAG-CO-VAC), a group of 18 experts, said that although current vaccines provide a high level of protection against severe disease and death caused by Variants Of Concern (VOC), future vaccines that can prevent infection and transmission need to be developed.

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In the meantime, the composition of current Covid-19 vaccines may need to be updated in order to protect against the evolution of the virus.

Such updates need to be based on strains that are genetically and antigenically close to the circulating variants. They should also elicit "broad, strong, and long-lasting" responses in order to "reduce the need for successive booster doses," WHO said.

The experts have encouraged Covid-19 vaccine manufacturers to provide data on the performance of current and Omicron-specific vaccines, to help decide when changes to vaccine composition may be required.

Regarding the current Omicron variant, the experts emphasized the importance of wider global access to current Covid-19 vaccines.

In related news, South African Professor Salim Abdool Karim said that future variants could be much weaker than Omicron.

Speaking to the SABC, Karim said while new variants could continue to evolve, they will cause less severe disease.

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“What we are likely to see now with future variants is that in order to displace Omicron it’s going to have to be able to spread even faster.

“But just based on what we can see now, we can expect that future variants in order to beat Omicron would have to in all likelihood be less severe,” Karim said.

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