BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – From June 15, a fourth COVID-19 vaccine dose will be offered to individuals who are at high risk of developing serious symptoms.

The health ministry has authorised a second booster shot for the elderly aged 80 and above, adults aged 60 and over with chronic diseases, immunocompromised persons aged 18 and above, as well as healthcare workers and frontliners with high risk of exposure.

The fourth jab will be voluntary and only administered to eligible individuals five months after their third dose.

Speaking at a press briefing on Monday, Health Minister Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham Hj Jaafar said the decision to offer an additional booster shot was made after taking into account studies that showed those with a weakened immune system were at higher risk of severe COVID despite getting a third jab.

He said immunosuppressed individuals include those who are undergoing cancer treatment, people living with HIV and dialysis patients.

UK researchers found that a second booster can improve the immune responses of individuals over and below 70 years of age.

However, the World Health Organization has yet to recommend additional booster jabs as more data is needed to study its efficacy against emerging variants.

Brunei joins a handful of Asian countries that offer a fourth vaccine dose as an option, including Cambodia, Singapore, South Korea and Thailand.

The emergence of new COVID variants further raised questions on the need for annual shots.

Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham said it’s “very likely” that older adults and those with weakened immune systems would have to take yearly jabs.

“Like the flu [vaccine], we take it every year because we know that immunity from vaccines will decrease over time.

“To protect them, we have to increase their immunity again so that they don’t suffer from serious effects of COVID,” he added.

To date, 71.8 percent of the Brunei population has received a third vaccine dose.