Songkran boost for seniors
Govt sets 70% target for third Covid shot
The Ministry of Public Health is aiming to administer a third booster shot to 70% of the country's elderly population ahead of the Thai New Year holiday next month, as they face a greater risk of infection and death from the coronavirus.
Wicharn Pawan, director of the general communicable diseases division under the Department of Disease Control (DDC), said Covid-19 infections and deaths sharply increased after last year's Songkran festival due to the limited vaccine rollout at the time.
"The ministry won't be taking any chances this year and will speed up the rollout of booster shots for the elderly before the holiday exodus begins," he said.
Dr Wicharn said seniors should get a third jab as it will help lessen the severity of symptoms and reduce the risk of death by 41 times.
Public health offices at the provincial level have been told to proactively check their residents' vaccination status and offer all senior citizens under their jurisdiction a third booster shot, he said.
Other state agencies and the private sector will also be asked to mobilise their resources to help the government achieve the target, he added.
"Elderly citizens who are due for a booster shot should get them before Songkran. About three million doses have been prepared for this age group," he said.
Dr Wicharn also urged people who plan to visit their families in the provinces to get boosters as well, in addition to avoiding any risky activities one week before travel.
Currently, about 10.5 million people aged over 60 have received their first shot of Covid vaccine, of which 10 million have received their second dose.
About 4.2 million people have received a booster shot, according to department figures.
Chawetsan Namwat, director of the Emergency Health Hazard and Disease Control Division under the DDC, on Monday shared the findings of a study carried out by Chiang Mai University's Faculty of Public Health, which showed a third shot offered 68% more protection against the Omicron variant than a two-dose regime, while a fourth shot offered 82% more protection.
"Two shots could prevent death, but do we still need a booster shot? I have to say [a third shot] is necessary because it increases protection against infection," he said.
"Early protection can significantly reduce the risk of death."
Somsak Akksilp, director-general of the Department of Medical Services (DMS), said the cabinet is expected to discuss the planned procurement of the antiviral medication Paxlovid, a nirmatrelvir/ritonavir combination developed by Pfizer.
He said if the procurement plan is approved, a contract is expected to be signed on March 24 and according to the manufacturer, enough doses for 50,000 treatment courses can be delivered in a week.
Meanwhile, Dr Wicharn said the ministry's immunisation panel has recently updated its guidelines for booster shots for people aged 18 and over.
They are now recommended to get their third shot three months after receiving their second dose, regardless of the type of the vaccine they had, he said.
Meanwhile, the ministry is now recommending a fourth booster shot four months after the third jab.
Under the new guideline, individuals who opt to receive the Pfizer vaccine as a booster shot can choose to receive half a dose under a doctor's advice.
Those aged 12-17 are urged to get a full dose of an mRNA vaccine as their third shot, which should be administered four to six months after the second shot.
This recommendation is in line with World Health Organization and the Royal College of Paediatricians of Thailand.
For former Covid-19 patients, they are now recommended to get a vaccine three months after recovering from their infection.