Covid-19 portugal
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Current Covid vaccines “won’t protect the elderly next winter”

Experts say updated vaccines are needed

Current Covid vaccines are obsolete. This is the message coming from experts just as the 4th dose of these very vaccines is being rolled out for people over the age of 80, and those who are ‘immunocompromised’ in some way.

Expresso explains: “in the immediate short-term they will give some defensive reinforcement against the development of serious illness in the most fragile, but they won’t be any use in the coming winter”.

DGS health chiefs have talked about a 3rd booster shot in October for the elderly and immuno-compromised, but if it is the same vaccine as the one’s currently being administered “it will be useless”, says the paper.

This is down to the endless mutations the virus has been through.

Filipe Froes, pneumologist, DGS consultant and consultant used by Pfizer, stresses: “The vaccines are at the end of their life. We have already had five (significant) variants. But what we have is a vaccine for the ancestral variant, already almost two years old. We are in a phase of transition”, he added, “between the end of the pandemic and the beginning of the epidemic stage; between a pandemic vaccine and a seasonal vaccine that will have to be updated for variants in circulation, as happens every year for the flu”.

“The current booster being given has the advantage of increasing protection for three to four months. But from October or November it has to be a new vaccine. This one won’t be of any use anymore…

Miguel Castanho, an investigator with IMM (the Institute of Molecular Medicine) and regular commentator on television, corroborates Froes’ assertions, saying the World Health Organisation and the US medicines authority have already stressed that repeat booster shots of the same vaccines are unsustainable (at best).

Carlos Cortes, a clinical pathologist at the Médio Tejo hospital has concluded that cellular immunity remains buoyant following infection (even if antibodies are no longer present), but the problem is that the virus has changed too much: not only is reinfection relatively easy, “the truth is that people are increasingly more immunised by the vaccine and by the virus, and they are continuing to get sick and die”.

Thus for now, no one (apart from the oblique reference to it happening in Portugal in October) seems to be up to re-boosting the elderly with a 3rd booster of the same vaccines later this year.

“We have to stay attentive to know if trials with a 5th dose show benefits, and if epidemiological information indicates this necessity. At the moment it doesn’t”,  immunologist Marc Veldhoen explains.

Where this conversation seems to be going is a “return to vaccinate Portuguese people in general, only with the new formula”.

“If a second-generation vaccine emerges, better adapted to the Ómicron variant and which may have a more significant effect on reducing the transmissibility of the disease, then it will make sense to extend vaccination to all age groups”, public health doctor and regular press commentator Gustavo Tato Borges tells Expresso.

Adverse effects of so many vaccines (?)

Says the paper: “The next question is if it may do harm to receive so many doses of the same infectious agent. Until proof to the contrary, science says no”.

Marc Veldhoen explains: “It is always a delicate question if the person is very fragile, and the resulting inflammation from the vaccine provokes damage. But for everybody else the immune system is regularly activated and multiple activations made it stronger”.

This isn’t quite the opinion of all experts. Saraiva da Cunha, a member of the board of the Portuguese Society of Infectious Disease and Clinical Microbiology, confirms “there is no limit to doses (that can be administered) but there has been a lot of discussion over whether the organism has the capacity to respond to successive vaccines of the same imunogenic type, and whether this in the end reduces immune response. There is no proof that this is the case, but there is a lot of speculation that it could be”, he told Expresso.

As to the existence of updated vaccines for the winter, Filipe Froes intimated these are ready and waiting. “The country only won’t have them if they don’t buy them”, he told the paper.

Expresso has questioned the DGS on its plan “but has not received a response”.

natasha.donn@portugalresident.com