Experts believe the priority must be to ensure that more people are inoculated with their first jab of the COVID-19 vaccine, than dishing out boost shots which India doesn’t need at this stage.
Satyajit Rath, an immunologist, National Institute of Immunology (NII), told PTI that less than 15% of Indian adults have been vaccinated with two doses, and this clearly means that all Indians who are more vulnerable to infection have not yet necessarily gotten two doses. “I therefore think that it is ethically premature to begin planning a third dose to a fortunate category of people at this stage,” he said. “It is also pragmatically premature to do so, since we have no really clear idea of who is more vulnerable to infection. We do know that some co-morbid categories are more vulnerable to serious illness, but two doses of the current vaccines currently protect quite well against that.”
Vineeta Bal, also an immunologist, guest faculty, Pune’s Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, agreed that India should not think of providing booster doses at this stage when about 40% of the eligible population is yet to receive the first dose. She believes vulnerable people, those with co-morbidities, may be considered for additional shots on a case by case basis. “But it has to be remembered that additional shots do not cover specific variants, which are supposed to be more dangerous.”
India, on Friday, administered a record over 2.5 crore COVID-19 vaccine doses, taking the cumulative number of doses administered in the country to 79.33 crore. Official sources said an estimated 63% of India’s adult population has received its first dose and 21% are fully vaccinated. Rath said all current COVID vaccines in use worldwide remain very effective for protection against serious illness or death from the infection without any booster doses. “While antibody levels are indeed going down after a few months, this is neither surprising, nor does it necessarily indicate any substantial loss of this kind of protection. How much longer it will be before any such loss begins to be seen is an empirical question for which we will have to wait for data.”
Furthermore, an expert review in The Lancet, this week, highlighted that vaccine efficacy against severe COVID-19, even for the Delta variant, is so high that booster doses for the general population are not appropriate at this stage in the pandemic.