Members of the medical community yesterday stressed the importance of adhering to safety guidelines and getting the booster vaccine in order to prevent a COVID-19 wave in Sri Lanka due to the Omicron variant.
According to National Institute of Infectious Diseases (NIID) Physician Dr. Ananda Wijewickrama, the country is facing a huge risk of a COVID-19 wave due to the Omicron variant. However, safety guidelines, health measures and the booster dose are key to preventing an Omicron wave, he said.
At a discussion on the importance of the booster dose held yesterday, Dr. Wijewickrama said public interest was high towards the first two vaccine doses.
“As a result of this, we see a clear drop in patient numbers, which is good. However, in the last two to three weeks, we felt a rise in numbers. We also know that the Omicron variant has been detected in various parts of the country,” he said, adding that, unfortunately, reluctance in getting the booster has been observed among certain groups.
Sri Lanka College of Internal Medicine President and National Hospital of Sri Lanka (NHSL) Physician Dr. Harsha Sathischandra also said an increase in COVID-19 detections has been observed in the past week.
“Even though a large number of patients is not being reported in Sri Lanka at the moment, we saw a rise in detections in the past week. At the National Hospital of Sri Lanka, for instance, there were 30 COVID-19 patients and this number has now increased to 60,” he said.
In addition to a rise in COVID-19 patients, the country is also seeing a rise in dengue patients, with 125 patients detected in January alone. The National Dengue Control Unit states that 35,054 dengue cases were detected in 2021.
According to Dr. Wijewickrama, there are patients who get both COVID-19 and dengue. This complicates treatment, which is why the public is being urged to get the booster dose.
“We do not recommend that persons get vaccinated while they have dengue. However, the effects of dengue only last while the person has the disease and there are no issues with getting the primary doses or the booster two weeks after getting the disease,” he said.
The NIID Physician added that while there are no issues with getting the booster a week after being discharged, it is recommended that persons wait two weeks before getting the booster dose.
While the country’s COVID-19 immunisation program is currently administering the first two vaccine doses as well as the booster dose, the health sector has raised concerns about the reluctance shown by the public towards getting the third vaccine dose.
Myths about adverse effects have created a level of fear among certain persons, but Dr. Wijewickrama said: “Instead of being susceptible to these myths, ensure your own safety by getting vaccinated.”
The booster dose is being administered around the globe and is especially important for those at higher risk of complications due to COVID-19. This includes persons who are pregnant. When asked if there are issues with pregnant women getting vaccinated, Dr. Sathischandra said no adverse effects are being reported from this group.
He added that the first two doses as well as the booster dose is recommended for persons who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Another vulnerable group are those over the age of 65 and Professor and Head of the Immunology and Molecular Medicine Department at the Sri Jayewardenepura University Prof. Neelika Malavige said Omicron spread in the US is seen mostly among the unvaccinated population over 65 years.
Explaining the global COVID-19 situation, Prof. Malavige said one million new COVID-19 detections and 1,500 to 2,000 COVID-19 fatalities are reported in the US daily. She added that 12.5% of the population over 65 years, which is a population of 85 million, is not vaccinated.
“Among this population, Omicron is spreading fast and ICUs are filling up. The situation is similar in Europe and many other countries due to anti-vax programs,” Prof. Malavige explained.
In comparison to the Delta variant, COVID-19 symptoms are less severe with the Omicron variant and the death rate is lower. However, Omicron has a higher transmissibility rate, which means that larger numbers are getting infected.
Prof. Malavige said that persons can question vaccine effectiveness given these numbers. However, she explained that hospitalisation due to Omicron dropped by 50% with two vaccine doses in the over 65 age group, while hospitalisation dropped by 90% with the booster dose.
According to Prof. Malavige, most ICU admissions and COVID-19 fatalities are from the unvaccinated population, which points to the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccine. In addition to this, the vaccine also prevents long COVID.
Sharing his views on vaccine effectiveness, Dr. Sathischandra said: “Regardless of the vaccine, antibodies generated by the vaccine reduce over time. Based on medical studies, it has been estimated that after three months, there is a drop in antibodies.”
This is why the booster dose is important. He added that in addition to lowering hospitalisation and severe disease, the booster dose also reduced one’s ability to contract the disease.
“The booster dose is necessary and is being administered around the globe,” he said, adding that the Omicron variant is spreading very fast and that the booster dose is the best way to prevent infection.