ATHENS — The government has decided to offer a third dose of a vaccine against Covid-19 to people over 60 or otherwise at greater risk from the novel coronavirus, based on the latest scientific evidence showing that a booster shot is needed to bolster immunity in these groups. The reasoning behind the decision was outlined to the the Athens-Macedonian News Agency on Sunday by a member of the government's health experts' committee and National Vaccination Committee, Vana Papaevangelou.
Regarding the immunosuppressed and very elderly, she noted that these were a special case and would not have to wait as long as other groups:
"Scientists have singled out the third dose for the immunosuppressed and very elderly – over 80 – where a third dose appears not to be a booster but a reinforcement of immunity as they did not respond well to the first doses due to immunosuppression and age," she said.
There was also a necessity for a third dose for those over 60, she added, since the data showed that the intensity of the immune response was affected by age.
"We have announced that those over 60 will need a third dose of the vaccine because laboratory studies and epidemiological figures show that the older a person is and the greater the period that has elapsed since their second dose – at least six months – the higher the chances that they will be infected with the virus," she said, while clarifying that the chances of serious illness and death were low.
In the case of healthcare professionals, she said the approach was different as they also formed a special category, due to a higher exposure to the virus. Maintaining the effectiveness of the vaccine to avoid infections in healthcare staff was crucially important to avoid spreading the disease to their families and workplaces and avoid weakening the health system if large numbers of staff became ill.
Asked whether a third dose might be offered to the general population, Papaevangelou said there was skepticism on this front and agreed with the World Health Organisation's assessment that priority must be given to vaccination in poorer countries.
"This is where mutations will arise," she pointed out, "which will possibly reduce the effectiveness of the vaccine in us."
She noted that protection from the vaccine waned after six months and protection measures need to be taken, adding that this benefited the community as the spread of the virus fell, while even more effective would be the vaccination of those that have not yet been vaccinated, as they were 10 times more likely to become ill than someone whose vaccine protection had faded.
The platform to book vaccination appointments has already opened for people receiving treatment to supress their immune system since September 14. Next in line will be people living in retirement and care homes, those aged over 60 and healthcare professionals.
The third dose is offered six to eight months after the first round of vaccination is completed and will be an mRNA vaccine. An exception is made for the immunosuppressed, who can get a third dose four weeks after the completion of their second dose.