Saturday, March 2, 2024

Health experts urge making fourth COVID vaccine more available

As Mexico’s fifth wave of coronavirus infections continues, two health experts have criticized the federal government for its slow and limited rollout of fourth shots of COVID-19 vaccines.

The government has offered second booster shots to seniors, people with existing medical conditions that make them vulnerable to serious illness and health workers, but not all younger adults have had access to a fourth dose.

According to The New York Times vaccinations tracker, 72% of Mexicans (adults and children) are vaccinated and 63% are fully vaccinated, but only 44% have had additional shots. Most of the booster shots administered to date have been third doses.

Francisco Moreno, an infectious disease specialist and head of COVID-19 care at the ABC Hospital in Mexico City, said that Mexico is behind where it should be in terms of fourth-dose coverage.

Mexican epidemiologist Gustavo Oláiz
UNAM epidemiologist Gustavo Oláiz expressed concern that those who have been vaccinated in Mexico are losing their lives to COVID in greater numbers. UNAM

“We’re behind due to a government strategy that gives the impression that the government wants to say: ‘We’re giving you this privilege [to get a fourth shot]’ but it’s not a privilege, it’s a right,” he told the newspaper Reforma.

In emphasizing the need for fourth shots to be administered more quickly and widely, Moreno noted that the emergence of new omicron subvariants has made reinfection more likely. He also said that the spread of the highly contagious substrains increases the risk of serious disease and hospitalizations.

Over time, people begin to lose vaccine-stimulated antibodies against COVID-19, and that puts them at greater risk of serious illness, Moreno said.

Gustavo Oláiz, an epidemiologist and National Autonomous University (UNAM) academic, was also critical of the government for not offering fourth shots more widely.

Fourth doses have been offered to younger adults in some parts of the country, including Mexico City, but they have not been available to that sector of the population across the nation, according to Reforma, which also reported that the government is not currently planning to broaden access to all people aged 18 and over.

Oláiz said that additional shots are needed every six to eight months to ensure people have protection against COVID-19, which has claimed over 328,000 lives in Mexico, according to official data. The omicron subvariants are more aggressive and adept at evading people’s immune systems, he told Reforma.

Oláiz noted that COVID-19 deaths have declined, but stressed that fatalities are still occurring. A lot of those dying are unvaccinated, but people who have had shots are losing their lives to the disease in growing numbers, he said.

“That means that immunity is being lost and we have to replenish it,” Oláiz said.

The federal government said last week that the fifth wave has begun to ease, but Oláiz described the decline as slow. There were just under 113,000 estimated active cases on Sunday, the Health Ministry reported, a 33% decline compared to a week earlier.

Accumulated case numbers – considered a vast undercount due to Mexico’s low testing rate – currently total 6.85 million, with about one-quarter of all infections detected in Mexico City. The Health Ministry said Sunday that 12% of general care hospital beds set aside for coronavirus patients were occupied, while just 4% of those with ventilators were taken.

With reports from Reforma 

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