However, “precaution doses” may continue to be administered to healthcare workers and those above 60 years with co-morbidities under the government’s national immunisation programme as per the existing policy, a senior official told TOI.
“Rethinking has to be done for boosters. The policy… has to be thought through. Boosters have not helped the cases in any country that has administered the third dose. Besides, we will not blindly follow what other countries have done. We have to look at our local epidemiology and science, and our decisions have to be based on that assessment,” the official said.
The National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI) for Covid-19 and the WHO had a high-level meeting on Tuesday where the issue of boosters was discussed in detail.
According to the official, experts from the WHO and NTAGI members have assessed real-world data from countries where boosters shots have been given. Besides, local data is also being studied. Experts are also reviewing the infection patterns, behaviour of the virus, emerging variants and viral loads along with breakthrough and reinfections.
The WHO is also likely to come up with guidance on booster doses soon.
A total of 86.87 lakh “precaution doses” have been administered to health and frontline workers and those above 60 years with co-morbidities since January 10, when it was introduced in the country. According to the health ministry’s projection, nearly three crore health and frontline workers are estimated to be eligible to get the booster shots. Besides, 2.75 crore people in the 60-plus age group with co-morbidities are projected across the country.
While some studies conducted outside the country have shown that boosters can offer greater protection against SARS-CoV2, there are also studies where preliminary findings show a decline in antibody levels just weeks after a third dose.
“The need of the hour is to develop a vaccine that can prevent not only severe disease from the infection but also spreading of infection. So that we can avoid community transmission,” the official said.
India has been rather slow in endorsing boosters. The government has maintained that any such decision will be governed by scientific evidence.
The decision to introduce booster shots was taken in the wake of rising number of Omicron cases.
Recently, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expanded eligibility for boosters to adolescents. However, many experts say that booster shots may not be a sustainable long-term strategy.
WHO experts have already warned that repeating booster doses of the original Covid vaccines is not a viable strategy against emerging variants.