A third dose of a Covid vaccine – recommended by several foreign countries and medical experts – will not necessarily protect you from the Omicron variant, Union Health Ministry sources told NDTV Tuesday, amid hesitancy by the government to authorise booster shots for Indian citizens.
Health Ministry sources pointed to Omicron cases in Israel, the United States and other countries to cast doubt over the extent to which a third vaccine dose can guard against the virus.
The government, however, has also told the Delhi High Court it is considering evidence related to the need and justification of booster doses.
This comes on the heels of the WHO this week saying Omicron is more transmissible than Delta – which is responsible for most of the world’s coronavirus infections, and over 60 per cent of all such infections in India, according to the Health Ministry – and reduces vaccine efficacy.
Medical experts, while acknowledging, a booster dose might not fully protect against the variant, it represents “our best chance, with other public health measures, of keeping people out of hospitals”.
Junior Health Minister Dr Bharati Pravin Pawar has told Parliament 60+ nations – including the US, Germany, Austria, Canada and France – are giving boosters. The UK has announced similar plans.
Australia – one of the world’s most vaccinated countries with over 90 per cent of all above 16 inoculated – has said it will reduce the waiting time for booster shots.
This week an initial study in the UK – where Omicron cases are expected to “dramatically increase” – found a third dose of the AstraZeneca or Pfizer-BioNTech jabs offered 70-75 per cent protection.
The UK has become the first country to report a death related to Omicron.
Pfizer-BioNTech has also said initial lab studies show a third dose of their vaccine may be needed to neutralize the Omicron variant.
The AstraZeneca vaccine is made and sold in India as Covishield by the Serum Institute. CEO Adar Poonawalla said last week said he had room to increase production, if needed for booster shots.
SII has applied to the government for clarity on a potential booster programme, but an expert panel of the Drug Controller General of India has asked for “justification” for additional shots.
The WHO has cited early data that indicates the Omicron strain – reported first in South Africa last month and now in over 70 countries – to warn that this variant could worsen the spread of the virus.
The Omicron variant is reported to have 50+ mutations that sparked fear among virologists, particularly since more than half are on the spike protein – which is what existing vaccines target.
“Boosters are even more urgent,” Gregory Poland, director of the US-based Mayo Clinic’s Vaccine Research Group told Bloomberg this month, “not only to elevate (individual) immunity… but also population-level immunity (to guard against) emergence of new variants.”
India has 49 confirmed cases of the Omicron variant just 12 days after reporting its first. Health Ministry sources said 11, including an 18-month-old girl, have been discharged after treatment.