Currently, WHO doesn’t recommend additional shots.
“The evidence remains limited and still inconclusive on any widespread need for booster doses following a primary vaccination series,” the agency has said. The WHO chief had earlier called the distribution of booster shots a “scandal,” as poorer countries continue to wait for their first jabs.
However, following the Omicron threat, calls are growing for booster jabs. SAGE will deliberate on the evidence, according to the agenda for the meeting. Its conclusion will have a bearing on what India decides.
India, which has so far reported four confirmed cases of the Omicron variant, hasn’t recommended third doses. Some experts said policy may need to change. It’s the right time to give booster shots to prioritised groups, according to K Srinath Reddy, president, Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI).
Concerns over waning immunity are also growing. The Association of Healthcare Providers (India), which represents small and medium hospitals, urged the government last month to consider allowing the eligible population to get a booster dose on a voluntary basis. AHPI is of the view that the stock of Covid-19 vaccines available with the private sector can be effectively utilised for this if the government permits.
The National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI), which makes recommendations to the government on vaccine administration, is deliberating on the matter.
“NTAGI is likely to make a key decision on whether immunocompromised people should get an additional third dose of Covid-19 vaccine,” a senior health ministry official told ET.
NTAGI Meets this Month
“A meeting is to be held this month. NTAGI will also contemplate the need for a booster dose to the eligible population and will form guidelines on paediatric immunisation,” said the health ministry official.
The Indian SARS-CoV-2 Consortium on Genomics (INSACOG), a consortium of laboratories that undertake genome sequencing, has suggested that booster doses be given first to high-risk, high-exposure people above the age of 40. Low levels of neutralising antibodies from current vaccines may not be sufficient to neutralise Omicron, although the risk of severe disease is likely to be reduced, it said in its weekly bulletin. The final decision on booster shots will be taken by NTAGI, said the official cited above.
An NTAGI member had earlier told ET that experts are looking into available data and literature on booster shots. “We are reviewing national literature and global data to see whether there is a need to give booster shots, a third dose to immunocompromised, and we will also decide on the guidelines for paediatric immunisation,” the person had said.