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Booster shots urged as Omicron spikes in SL

By Marianne David

Medical experts are urging the public to obtain the Covid-19 vaccination booster dose, in the backdrop of a sudden spike in Omicron variant cases being recorded in Sri Lanka.

“Two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine provide very good protection, especially against severe disease. A booster dose will increase your protection against infection, severe disease, and dying from Covid-19,” said Dr. Chandima Jeewandara of the Sri Jayewardenepura University’s Department of Immunology and Molecular Medicine.

A total of 48 Omicron cases were detected in Sri Lanka in December, with the first case being reported on 3 December 2021. The variant was detected in 41 samples tested by the Sri Jayewardenepura University Laboratory, the university said on Friday (31 December 2021). Earlier in the month it reported the detection of four samples, while the Medical Research Institute said three Omicron cases had been detected by its lab on 22 December.

Dr. Jeewandara said in Sri Lanka the majority of the population had been vaccinated with Sinopharm and their research had shown that “antibodies wane significantly”. As a result, he emphasised on the importance of the booster dose and commended the MOH for securing sufficient doses.

Vaccine coverage in Sri Lanka is currently at over 64% fully-vaccinated persons and 10% partially-vaccinated persons.

“What we know is that the Omicron infection enhances neutralising immunity against Delta, suggesting that Omicron will help push Delta out. It will surely affect South Asia like in the past, but we have a chance to better prepare.”

Dr. Jeewandara said he could not comment on the prevalence of Omicron here as the university’s sample was a focused sample. “Our laboratory at the AICBU carried out genomic sequencing of 176 samples, which came from BIA, Hospinorm Laboratory, CMC and Mahara and Minuwangoda MOH areas. We have not received an island-wide representative sample.”

Noting that there was still a lot to learn about Covid-19, the Immunologist and Allergist asserted: “One thing we know for certain is that ‘mild Covid’ can be debilitating and lead to long-term or permanent disease and disability. At least 10-30% of those who survive any Covid infection will go on to live with (and sometimes die from) long Covid – a long-term, lifelong, or even life-threatening or fatal, disabling chronic syndrome, the biological pathways of which are still largely unknown.”

The best way to prevent post-Covid conditions is to prevent Covid-19 illness, he emphasised: “For people who are eligible, getting vaccinated against Covid-19 as soon as you can is the best way to protect yourself from severe Covid-19 disease.”