India is under mounting pressure to administer a third dose of the COVID vaccine to its population, with Omicron cases doubling every few days and many other nations well on their way to jab their people with a booster dose.
Business leaders and health experts are advising the Centre to launch a booster drive and begin vaccinating children as well in the wake of the highly-transmissible Omicron, which has already caused 415 infections in India as of Saturday.
Maharashtra has recorded a maximum of 108 Omicron cases, followed by Delhi at 79, Gujarat 43, Telangana 38, Kerala 37, Tamil Nadu 34, and Karnataka 31.
A Bloomberg report quoted Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, founder and chair of Biocon, one of India’s largest drugmakers, as saying: “We need a booster policy for sure. I really don’t know what’s holding it up – it’s got nothing to do with vaccine availability. India could begin inoculating those under 18 as well as administer third doses to frontline healthcare workers, the elderly and those at high risk since they got their first shots in early 2021.”
As of now, the cumulative vaccine doses administered in the country has exceeded 141.01 crore. Union health minister Mansukh Mandaviya tweeted on Thursday that 60 per cent of India’s population is fully vaccinated against the infectious disease.
With the Omicron surge, the Indian Medical Association has urged the central government to provide third doses to frontline workers and immune-compromised people.
India is largely administering AstraZeneca’s Covishield vaccine, the protection from which, according to recent research, starts waning three months after the second shot, while a booster dose was shown to boost neutralising antibodies against Omicron.
According to the Bloomberg report, India’s drug regulator has so far been reluctant to authorise third doses or childhood vaccination until local trial data has been produced, while India’s network of government-funded COVID genome sequencing labs said in November that boosters should be considered for over-40s and those at high risk, as the danger of severe disease will likely be reduced.
Elsewhere in the world, meanwhile, Japan has announced plans to accelerate the rollout of boosters and the UK has set a year-end deadline to offer all adults a third dose. Israel declared on Tuesday it would offer a fourth dose of vaccines to people older than 60.
But the WHO has advised caution to the world. “Blanket booster programmes are likely to prolong the pandemic, rather than ending it, by diverting supply to countries that already have high levels of vaccination coverage, giving the virus more opportunity to spread and mutate,” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a press briefing. “No country can boost its way out of the pandemic. And boosters cannot be seen as a ticket to go ahead with planned celebrations, without the need for other precautions,” he added.