NEW DELHI: Amid mounting fear over the new SARS-COV2 variant Omicron, an expert committee on Covid immunisation is considering to recommend an “additional dose” to those who are immunocompromised or are elderly and at high risk of infection or death due to Covid-19 infection, an official source said.
A final decision on the issue, however, will be taken by the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI) next week, which will be then considered by the health ministry for approval. It would be too early as yet to speculate on just when the doses will be given. “We shall decide this after the NTAGI meeting next week,” a senior official told TOI.
Experts say vaccination is certainly a strong public health measure and, even in case of mutations, may prove protective to a large extent. “Data from various countries suggest that majority of the deaths due to Covid-19 and even hospitalisation, particularly those who are critical, are among unvaccinated. Secondly, the data suggests that those who are immuno-compromised, like transplant patients or cancer patients, sometimes may need a third dose because their immune systems do not work so well,” the official said.
Meanwhile, the government is also working on a comprehensive policy for vaccination of children.
“We are ready with a comprehensive plan for vaccinating children below 18 years of age. A prioritisation process — similar to adults — has been prepared so that children with co-morbidities or those who are immuno-compromised are given priority. We will submit this plan to the ministry very soon but time to start vaccination among children is yet to be specified,” Covid-19 taskforce chairman Dr N K Arora said.
Officials say even some elderly may require an additional dose as they may not generate enough antibodies or develop immunity.
“There are also cases, where vaccine induced immunity may wane faster because of age, underlying disease or inability of body. There are some memory cells that are created which will immediately respond when one gets the infection but may be in some cases – where people are elderly or immune-compromised, it is not happening. So there is no harm in giving an additional dose to such people,” an official said.
In the wake of Omicron, the new variant of SARS-COV2, the government is also closely tracking the data to analyse trends such as severity of infection among new Covid-19 cases, especially those that are getting hospitalised even after vaccination, and those dying from the infection.
However, the expert panel feels that at this point there is no data in India to suggest a need for a booster dose for all adults.
“Most people here are young and have a good level of immunity. The sero surveys conducted by states recently suggest 90-95% of adult population have immunity. Even among children, the sero-prevalence is around 80%. The national sero-survey will further validate that,” the official said. The World Health Organisation’s Scientific Advisory Group will also deliberate on the issue of need for booster dose in the wake of Omicron in its upcoming meeting on December 7. Meanwhile, the government here is focused on completing first dose coverage among all of its adult population, and expand coverage among those due for their second dose.