COVID-19 booster shots are to begin Thursday for some fully vaccinated people over age 70 and people whose immune systems are compromised, the Ministry of Health announced late Wednesday night.
The booster is to be restricted to those who received their second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine no sooner than six months ago or earlier, the ministry said.
Barbados is now set to become among the first Caribbean nations to offer coronavirus booster shots, even as some countries throughout the region struggle with procuring adequate supplies of the jabs and rising vaccine hesitancy that has run along political and labour union fault lines.
In a statement received from the Barbados Government Information Service after 10 p.m., the Ministry of Health said: “The roll-out of AstraZeneca booster shots under the National Vaccination Programme for COVID-19, will begin tomorrow, Thursday, October 21.
“The Immunisation Unit advises that at this stage, these will be offered to fully vaccinated persons aged 70 and over, and those who are immunocompromised and who had received their second dose before the end of April.
“These individuals may visit the Masonic Centre, at Salters, St. George, or any other vaccination site to receive their COVID-19 boosters.”
The brief late-night announcement came hours after two important developments here and abroad.
First, healthcare workers at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) were the first to receive their third shots, Barbados TODAY has learned.
Nurses, doctors and ancillary staff volunteered for a third shot of the vaccine during a drive held on Wednesday at the QEH’s auditorium.
Then, drug authorities in the United States authorized booster doses of two COVID-19 vaccines and said Americans can choose a different shot from their original inoculation as a booster.
Debate over boosters had raged after studies found that protection from the coronavirus had begun to wear off at least six months after the last shot. The US then moved to increase protection for people aged 65 and older, those at risk of severe disease and those who are exposed to the virus through their work.
The booster shot has not been made mandatory for health care workers. Up until late Wednesday night, Government had yet to formally announce a policy on COVID-19 booster shots.
QEH staff was informed via a memo that was circulated on Tuesday stating that those who had received their second dose of the Oxford AstraZeneca more than six months ago would be eligible to receive a booster shot.
The memo read: “Please be advised that staff who received their second dose of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine at least six months ago are now eligible to receive a booster shot of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine.
“These booster shots will help improve the protection offered from the first two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine and will be made available to staff on weekdays only from Wednesday, October 20 through Friday, October 29, between 8:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. in the QEH Auditorium.
“Staff presenting to the auditorium for a booster shot are reminded to walk with their blue Barbados certificate of COVID-19 vaccination card to certify the dates on which they received their previous two doses. Similarly, staff may also show their Ministry of Health and Wellness issued certificate of vaccination sent via email from the SHAPE application.”
The decision to administer booster shots comes in the midst of a Delta variant outbreak on the island that has claimed the lives of over 50 mostly elderly people in the space of just over a month.
But the national vaccination drive has slowed to a trickle as the clock runs down on the expiration date of thousands of doses.
Despite efforts to widen access to the public, there has been rising hesitancy linked to an orchestrated anti-vaccine campaign that put up strong resistance to a national mandate. Government has repeatedly indicated its opposition to mandatory or compulsory vaccination of the workforce.
Back in August during an interview with Barbados TODAY, Chief Medical Officer Dr Kenneth George said health authorities would not be administering booster shots until a larger percentage of the population had received their first dose.
But as of Tuesday, only 43.5 per cent of the total population was fully vaccinated and 51.6 per cent of the ‘eligible’ population was fully vaccinated.
“The issue of boosters we are aware of in the Ministry of Health. It makes no sense looking at boosters when we have so much more of our population to be vaccinated. Please recall that vaccines are not in tremendous supply.” Dr George said at the time.
“I wouldn’t like the issues of boosters to get ahead of ourselves until we have more of our population vaccinated with at least two doses. Boosters are like icing on the cake and the challenge is that first world countries are able to use boosters in their population because they have an excess vaccine supply, but with respect to Barbados I wouldn’t like us to go down this route, not just yet, when we have persons who are still to be vaccinated.”
No reason was given for an apparent shift on boosters in Barbados but the announcement was preceded by news late Wednesday that the US Food and Drug Administration authorized booster doses of the COVID-19 vaccines from Moderna and Johnson and Johnson. It also gave the go-ahead to mix shots with their original inoculation as a booster.
The development means all three vaccines authorized in the United States can also be given as boosters to some groups. [email protected]