Jakarta – As COVID-19 cases rise amid the spread of the Omicron variant worldwide, vaccine boosters have been recommended for large parts of the population, as full inoculation may not effectively protect people from the new strain.
On Tuesday, President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo called on people who had received their second jab to quickly get a booster shot. The government kicked off its nationwide rollout of vaccine boosters on Jan. 12, which are to be available for free at community health centers, state hospitals and vaccination service posts run by regional health agencies.
Booster doses will make a difference, according to the Indonesian Technical Advisory Group on Immunization (ITAGI), First, antibody levels among vaccinated individuals begin to steadily decline six months after the second jab, and the booster dose renews these antibodies. Second, nobody knows when the pandemic will be over because new variants have continued to emerge, so additional rounds of vaccination appear increasingly necessary.
The ITAGI has recommended a booster dose for people aged 18 and older. Other priority groups are the elderly and people with weakened immune systems. It is also safe for pregnant women to get booster doses, the advisory group has said.
According to the United Kingdom's Health Security Agency, the risk of hospitalization and severe COVID-19 illness declines by 65 percent in people with two vaccine doses and 81 percent in people who have had a booster shot on top of that. Meanwhile, a study from Scotland found that people who had received a booster shot were 57 percent less likely to experience symptoms after being infected with the Omicron variant.
It is good to see that the government is committed to expanding booster coverage. The current rollout targets some 179 million people, and registration for the vaccine booster has been made available through the PeduliLindungi app.
Some 170,000 people have received a third dose since the campaign started on Jan. 12, Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin said during a hearing before the House of Representatives on Tuesday.
But the national vaccination drive should not leave anyone behind, particularly those who have yet to receive their first or second shot. About 43 percent of the total targeted population and 56 percent of elderly people have yet to receive a complete primary vaccine series. Therefore, it is crucial for the government to prioritize access to primary vaccination, especially for people at higher risk of COVID-19.
Considering the many citizens who remain unprotected from the virus, the government still needs to focus on increasing primary vaccination coverage to 70 percent of the total population, as recommended by the World Health Organization.
While booster shots are important, they should not outpace the primary COVID-19 vaccination. Without widespread vaccination and strict health protocol enforcement, it is unlikely that transmission will be appreciably stemmed, let alone stopped altogether.