Argument for getting booster doses needs a boost
Emeritus Professor Tan Sri Dato' Dzulkifli Abdul Razak
Opinion - New Straits Times
February 14, 2022
The booster dose issue is confusing enough even without the debate between a government-linked company (GLC) and the Health Ministry about the (in)effectiveness of an alleged Covid-19 vaccine combination.
The GLC is said to have made misrepresentations about the situation publicly.
Unfortunately, this was not settled behind closed doors before it was revealed to the public, who are baffled by the rising Omicron variant cases.
Invariably, the level of trust in booster shots continues to suffer, especially for non-European brands that did not see the light of day in the West, notably the United States.
A recent study by Yale University and the Dominican Republic shows that even with a Pfizer booster after two Sinovac doses, protection against Omicron is only slightly higher than with two mRNA doses alone.
This is because a Pfizer-BioNTech booster after a Sinovac primer produced neutralising antibodies (NAb) against Omicron only 1.4 times higher than with a two-dose mRNA vaccine.
Apparently, two Sinovac vaccine doses showed no protection against the highly contagious variant.
In another example, in terms of public health, CoronaVac 2x, referring to the name of the inactivated Covid-19 vaccine produced by China's Sinovac Biotech, is said to be insufficient to neutralise Omicron.
Even with CoronaVac 2x plus Pfizer booster, NAb is only 1.4 times higher.
"Thus, CoronaVac recipients may need two additional booster doses to reach levels needed against Omicron," tweeted one of the study's authors from Yale University.
From this standpoint, one senses a problem with the use of the word "booster", or "penggalak", to start off with.
Now that I have had two doses of the same vaccine nine months ago, I cannot be more convinced.
To begin with, "booster" is simply a misnomer. While it should demonstrate something invigorating, vibrant, accelerating or moving forward with greater resolution, mostly, it did not.
A booster cannot fall short of this.
After all, the standard lexicon attributes it to a device for increasing force, power or effectiveness. Aptly, one that boosts.
That said, I experienced none of them. Instead, the reverse.
Lack of force, physically and emotionally. Loss of power, including willpower.
And pain, certainly, culminating in ineffectiveness, be it working from home or the office.
So where is the "boost" that was imagined? These adverse booster effects are not new as we read about them from narratives and postings.
Since they tend to cause more confusion, why not just use the term "additional" dose instead? Call it dos tambahan without vulgarising the term penggalak.
Some argue that it did boost the processes in the body, for example, by enhancing NAb or immune capacity, to counter the virus.
If so, many don't know what the actual level is to necessitate a booster, as the debates are pointing to today. And how about the definition of a "fully vaccinated" person?
The thinly veiled "threat" to withdraw the fully vaccinated status of millions who received Sinovac, and the warga emas who are yet to get their booster shots (which one?), seems hasty.
This will likely cause a greater trust deficit and hesitancy among people, creating more uncertainty.
It is time for a clearer and more robust evidence to boost the argument for an "additional" dose, or even doses.
The writer, an NST columnist for more than 20 years, is International Islamic University Malaysia rector
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the New Straits Times