The National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation is poised to come up with a policy regarding booster shots – regarding who will be eligible for the dose and to set the order of priority.

A healthcare worker administering vaccineIMAGE FOR REPRESENTATION
news COVID-19 Tuesday, November 30, 2021 - 19:19

With the World Health Organisation’s recent announcement that the new coronavirus variant, Omicron – first detected in South Africa – poses a global risk and with India keeping a close tab on incoming international travellers, the conversation on booster doses of the COVID-19 vaccines has resurfaced. 

The Karnataka government, too, had written to the Union government on November 27, seeking approval for a booster programme. This was in light of a spurt in infection clusters in educational institutions – no cases of the Omicron variant have been detected in the state. Now, the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI) is poised to come up with a policy on the same – regarding who will be eligible for a booster dose and to set the order of priority. 

However, experts told TNM that booster doses are not a priority for the majority of the population in India, as the infection levels across the country are steadily waning. Even on Tuesday, November 30, Union government data revealed that the number of fresh infections was overwhelmingly less compared to the recoveries. The daily positivity rate was 0.69%, less than that of the last 57 days (2%).  

Dr Pradeep Banandur, a member of Karnataka’s Technical Advisory Committee and an epidemiologist at NIMHANS (National Institute of Mental Health and Neurological Sciences) said, “As of now, booster doses are not needed. Rather, we should concentrate on getting people their second doses. After that, we should think of the third dose. Across the country, the epidemic seems to be under control right now. Once the majority of the population gets  the second dose, then we can think of a booster dose.” 

He also said that enforcement of COVID-19 protocols is necessary to check the growth of clusters.

Eminent epidemiologist Dr Jayaprakash Muliyil is of the opinion that a majority of Indians do not need a third shot. He said, “The new variant has to demonstrate some dangerous trait. There is some evidence to show that it is more infectious, but that does not mean much. So far we don’t have any evidence to show that previously acquired immunity will not protect against the new variant.” He said that in India the bulk of the population has been naturally exposed to the infection and a high percentage have been vaccinated with at least one dose. This, he said, makes Indians safer than their counterparts in the developed world where the number of natural infections is less. He added, “So far, all the variants have obeyed the rule and shown respect to previously acquired immunity either through natural infection or through vaccination.”

He said the need for a booster dose has to be assessed after looking at the rate of the number of reinfections and if there was any sudden rise of such cases.  

Dr K Srinath Reddy, president of the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI), said that the booster dose may be required for two categories of the population. One, being doctors and other frontline workers who were the first to get their shots and are exposed to high viral loads. The other category is those with pre-existing immunosuppressed conditions, irrespective of their age and including children. He said, “The booster dose is primarily intended to protect the people who are most vulnerable if they get infected with the virus. So that logic extends to the new variant too.”

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