Countries like the UK, US, Australia and Canada have recommended a booster shot for senior citizens, healthcare workers and those with comorbidities who got their second doses at least six months ago. It’s almost two months since booster shots began finding regulatory backing globally, but India’s position remains unclear. The data is revealing: 3.53 crore people received their second doses till May 8, six months ago. Nearly half of them are senior citizens and many remaining beneficiaries are healthcare and frontline workers. Less than 25% of present vaccine stocks – 15.6 crore doses are piled up with state governments – will be extinguished even if every one of this 3.5 crore cohort receive medical advice to take a booster shot and then turn up for their jab.
TOI has reported that experts are worried about vaccine stocks expiring, an appalling waste of resources if this were to happen. The situation of large vaccine stocks and those on the cusp of expiry easily allows social medicine – where governments are prioritising first and second doses presently – to coexist with personal medicine, where jabs are given to those worried about passage of time since second dose, consequent waning of antibodies and disease/occupational risks.
An abiding lesson from the Covid pandemic is to let go of rigid classifications and adapt to fluid situations. GoI’s original plan to fully vaccinate priority groups before the general population had to be abandoned. The ensuing vaccine demand ensured that GoI upped purchases and this organically boosted vax supplies. In private medicine, citizens pursue an array of wellness choices like getting flu shots or executive health checkups. Covid vaccination has also reached such a stage where India can cater to individual preferences. Many with mild and moderate symptoms at risk of severe Covid opted for the antibody cocktail in consultation with their doctors.
Western regulators started approving booster shots after breakthrough infections and scientific studies indicated waning vaccine efficacy over time. With Covid cases admittedly on a downward trajectory in India, triumphalist political tendencies are again manifesting. But we still don’t know enough about this disease to declare victory. To make informed choices, the next serosurveys must lay special emphasis on fully vaccinated individuals to understand duration of persistence of antibodies. Mix and match studies certifying safety and immunogenicity will offer greater choice of vaccines in the booster dose programme. Like the West, India can also easily pursue adult and child universal vaccination concurrently alongside booster doses.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.
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