– To say that you should not take the third dose is a bit like saying that you should break your blood pressure medication in two, or take antibiotics for two days instead of five, says Richard Bergström to Dagbladet.
Bergström is Sweden’s vaccine coordinator. He also negotiates vaccine doses on behalf of the EU – and has throughout the pandemic secured doses to both Sweden and Norway from Brussels.
The vaccine coordinator sees the third dose as a necessary part of the vaccination, and stands firmly behind the increasing use of third doses in Europe – and the requirement for a third dose in the EU’s corona certificate.
The National Institute of Public Health’s recommendation is currently that people between the ages of 18 and 44, who are in the risk groups or selected stages of pregnancy, should get vaccinated with the third dose. For everyone else in the current age group, FHI’s recommendation is that they may get vaccinated with the third dose – if they want it.
However, WHO’s Europe chief Hans Kluge’s call is clear:
“Refreshment doses are by far the most important defense against omikron,” he said in a statement quoted by media outlets such as The Guardian and the BBC just before Christmas.
– Boost, boost, boost, he added.
– Agree with Kluge
At the same time, WHO leader Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus spoke against vaccination program that provides third doses to anyone and everyone.
– Programs that provide booster doses to everyone are likely to prolong the pandemic, rather than end it, by redirecting vaccine supplies to countries that already have high vaccination coverage. It will give the virus a greater opportunity to spread and mutate, Ghebreyesus said during last year’s last WHO press conference from Geneva.
The WHO head asked the world community to prioritize the goal of fully vaccinating 70 percent of the population in all countries by mid-2022.
– It is important that we remember that the overwhelming majority of those who are admitted to hospital are people who have been vaccinated, not people who have not received a booster dose, he continued.
Bergström is clear:
– I agree with Hans Kluge. “Boost, boost, boost”. My opinion is that no one is “fully vaccinated” until they have received three doses. All evidence suggests that the mRNA vaccines are three-dose vaccines. The best thing to do right now, in the middle of an omicron wave, is to “boost” everyone as quickly as possible – as long as we have access to doses, he says.
– No conflict
However, this does not mean that he disagrees with Ghebreyesus, he emphasizes.
– It may seem like a conflict – that Ghebreyesus and Kluge disagree – but I do not think it is. They work in different regions. The situation in Europe is different from the global one, he says.
One point of view thus does not exclude the other, Bergström believes.
– In countries with low vaccination coverage, which in addition may have a vaccine deficiency, what do you do with the doses you have? Then I agree that one must prioritize giving doses one and two to unvaccinated people who risk dying, rather than “boosting” the few who have been vaccinated. In Europe, we have the luxury of not having a vaccine shortage. We can do both.
In August, Ghebreyesus asked all countries that have come a long way in vaccination to wait to give their inhabitants a third dose until 10 percent of the inhabitants of all the countries of the world are vaccinated.
– When Ghebreyesus first said this, I think the general perception was that the third dose was a kind of luxury. Something you did not really need. Now we have clearly seen that it is needed. Especially for our elderly, who may have received the first dose early last year and now have lower protection, says Bergström.
Not everyone agrees with Bergström that the third dose is strictly necessary. Vaccine researcher Gunnveig Grødeland at the University of Oslo (UiO) is among those who have been critical of giving booster doses to young, healthy people.
– All the data we have indicate that two vaccine doses provide good and long-lasting protection against serious illness in the healthy and adult part of the population. I therefore do not see the purpose of driving with more and more doses to this group, she told Dagbladet in December.
– Absolutely absurd
Last week, Dagbladet spoke with 18-year-old Erle Kvammen. She is among those who have spoken out against giving three doses to healthy, young people.
– I think it is completely immoral and not fair that I who am healthy and young should get three doses, when there are so many millions of people who need dose number one, she told Dagbladet.
Bergström rejects any such criticism.
– The EU has vaccinated 350 million people with two doses, and then we have started with another dose. We have received around one billion doses. At the same time, we have sold as many to countries such as Canada, Mexico and Japan. In addition, we have donated 400 million doses, almost all through COVAX. Do not forget it.
Europe has “succeeded in doing both”, Bergström believes.
– If one then finds that this is a three-dose vaccine, it is strange if we decide to discontinue the vaccination to give the doses to someone else, he says, and continues:
– It would have been completely absurd not to act on the latest knowledge, and to refrain from a third dose, when so much indicates that we need it. I think you have to do both.
– Exaggerates the differences
Vaccine deficiency is not the only problem either, Bergström believes.
– You have to nuance. Take South Africa. There is no vaccine shortage in South Africa. They have vaccines so it lasts. On the other hand, they have problems with support. It’s a huge problem.
On average, the countries that qualify for vaccine support through COVAX have about 30 percent fully vaccinated, according to Bergström.
– There are very big differences between different countries. A number of African countries have very low numbers, but there are also developed countries with similarly low levels. Bulgaria is around 25 percent. The United States has huge problems. They have stagnated at just over 60 percent.
Sometimes the differences are exaggerated, he believes.
– It is clear that it is a problem that many countries are so far behind. But I think the EU has succeeded in showing that it is possible to do both at the same time.
Announces decision next week
Last week, Bergström warned Dagbladet that the EU may soon “push the button”.
By that he means that they are formally placing an order for an updated omicron vaccine from the pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and Moderna.
The EU will probably take a final position on the issue next week, Bergström stated on Thursday.
– Decision next week, as it looks now. High probability that we “print”, he wrote in an SMS to Dagbladet.
Bergström has previously told Dagbladet that in that case the EU will be able to provide omicron vaccines to the entire EU population within two to three months.