Now that the second phase of the government’s vaccination drive is underway, health experts are urging those who have received their first jab of the COVID-19 vaccine to ensure that they don’t miss the booster shot, while also advising them to continue following COVID-19 safety protocols including wearing masks in public and maintaining social distancing.
Underscoring the importance of the second booster dose, Dr Shahid Jameel, virologist and Director of the Trivedi School of Biosciences at Ashoka University told the News Minute that the immune response reaches peak level in two weeks after taking the first dose. But, it also goes down fairly quickly over the next few weeks and a second or booster becomes necessary, he pointed out.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which had updated its guidelines for fully vaccinated people on Monday (march 8) too has emphasised that a person is only considered fully vaccinated about two weeks after the second dose has been administered.
In fact, most of the COVID-19 vaccines used around the world are administered in two doses that are given a few weeks apart, with the exception of the Johnson&Johnson vaccine. However, health experts are still in the dark about the efficacy period of the vaccine.
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There is still no clarity on whether people should get vaccinated every year or every few years. Scientists do not have the answers since long-term studies have not been conducted on this as yet, said health experts.
Further, there is no assurance that these vaccines will work against new variants of the coronavirus. Preliminary data suggests that while some vaccines work against some of the variants, they may not be effective against all variants.
Also, can the vaccines reduce the transmission of the virus? In short, is it possible that a fully vaccinated person, who is protected from infection themselves, still carry the virus in their nose and throat and spread it to others who may not have vaccine-induced immunity or natural immunity from the disease? There are no answers based on scientific evidence to these questions as well.
For these reasons, health experts are advising that it is important to take all precautions and wear masks not only after the first dose because you really don’t know if you’re protected, but also after the second dose.
According to Dr Jameel, vaccines have been tested for their efficacy against disease and not for efficacy against infection. “So even after two doses, you may still get infected. It’s just that if you had the propensity to have severe disease, you’ll have mild or asymptomatic disease, but you can still transmit the virus to others. So even after the second dose, precaution should be taken,” he warned, News Minute reported.
Health experts in countries around the world like the US are also debating over prioritising giving more first doses than focusing on the second dose as well, as a way to tackle the virus. However, Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, believed that countries need to give both doses since this is based on the solid scientific data that they have accumulated.
“You can do both, you can get as many people in their first dose at the same time as adhering, within reason, to the timetable of the second dose,” he had told reporters. But, it has become increasingly clear to the scientific community that even after two doses, it is not guaranteed that a person will not contract the virus. This means that fully vaccinated people should also continue to take precautions and wear masks.
So far, India has vaccinated 2.26 crore people, having administered a huge number of 17 lakh people just on Monday alone, the Union Health Ministry said. In this number, 14.30 lakh beneficiaries were vaccinated for their first dose and 2.65 lakh healthcare workers and frontline workers received their second dose of the vaccine.
Meanwhile, at the inaugural of the Dr Hansa Mehta Lecture on Monday, Chief Economist of the International Monetary Fund, Gita Gopinath commended India for “playing a very important role” in helping the world in the global health crisis through its vaccination policies.
According to her, India really “stands out” in terms of its vaccine policy. “If you look at where exactly is one manufacturing hub for vaccines in the world – that will be India,” she was quoted as saying.
She particularly mentioned the Serum Institute of India’s contribution towards producing vaccines at a regular pace to be dispatched to countries around the world. “India has been at the forefront in fighting this pandemic,” she said, noting that India has been providing vaccines through grants to several neighbouring countries, including Bangladesh, Nepal and Myanmar, and through commercial arrangements as well.