Vaccine specialist defends THL's decision to limit booster jabs

The National Advisory Committee on Vaccines is expected to discuss offering the third dose of the vaccine to those under 60 on Wednesday.

The third dose is currently only available for people in risk groups and those aged 60 and above Image: Jorge Gonzalez / Yle

The Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) will continue to focus on providing the third dose of the Covid-19 vaccine to those in risk groups, instead of expanding eligibility to the rest of the population, according to Mia Kontio, a top vaccine specialist at THL.

Currently the third dose, also known as a booster shot, is only recommended for people above the age of 60 and those in medical risk groups, who make up roughly 2.5 million people in Finland.

The THL and the National Advisory Committee on Vaccines (Krar) have been criticised for their decision to postpone the rollout of third doses for those who are not in risk groups.

"THL is not putting it off, but it is not in a hurry to begin either. Right now it is vital to vaccinate those who are at high risk for infection. They haven't been comprehensively vaccinated yet, and expanding eligibility to include younger age groups could slow down vaccination for older age groups," Kontio stated in an interview on Yle TV's breakfast show Ylen aamu.

According to Kontio, Finland currently has around 550,000 people who received the second dose of the vaccine six months ago and are subsequently eligible for the booster shot. About 40 percent of them have gotten the third jab.

"For a majority of those who are 60 and above, six months will not have passed after the second dose until February. There aren't that many people who would have received the second shot over six months ago," Kontio added.

Krar is expected to discuss whether the booster shot should be made available to people under 60 on Wednesday. Additionally, the group will consider whether to bring forward third dose eligibility criteria from six months to five months.

The issue of rolling out vaccines for children aged 5–11 is reportedly also on the table. However, it could be a few days before a final decision is made by other authorities. If approved, vaccinations could begin before Christmas.

"Unvaccinated people under the age of 40 currently account for the highest number of infections. The third vaccine will not have much of an effect if vaccination is primarily targeted at people over the age of 40," Kontio said.

Is a new vaccine on the cards?

In an interview with Financial Times (siirryt toiseen palveluun) on Tuesday, pharmaceutical company Moderna's CEO Stéphane Bancel predicted that existing Covid-19 vaccines will not provide sufficient protection against the new Omicron variant, compared to previous mutations of the virus.

Moderna as well as Pfizer have begun enhancing their vaccines to increase their effectiveness against Omicron.

"Preliminary data does not indicate that Omicron can get past the protection against severe illness offered by the vaccine any more than previous variants can," Kontio said.

If pharmaceutical companies do develop a new vaccine against the Omicron mutation, it would take a few months to become commercially available, according to estimates.

"Finland is prepared to acquire these [vaccines], if required," Kontio added.