Experts back Covid booster shots for frontline workers

Experts back Covid booster shots for frontline, healthcare workers: Report

This comes amid a global debate on the need for a third dose while third-world nations struggle to administer first, second doses

A healthcare worker receives Covid-19 vaccine Covishield. Credit: Reuters File Photo

Breakthrough infections and worries of falling antibodies levels against Covid-19 among those vaccinated have prompted some health experts to suggest a third dose of the coronavirus vaccine for frontline workers and those above 60 years of age as the debate around the booster dose continues.

Healthcare workers and frontline workers in other professions were the first to be vaccinated in India when the immunisation drive began in January. Since they are the most at risk, many have supported a booster dose to replenish their antibody levels against the viral disease.

“Booster doses to those who are in the frontline, and are at high risk, speaks of good common sense,” Anoop Mishra, head of Fortis-C-DOC in Delhi, is quoted as saying by The Economic Times.

Ambrish Mithal of Max Healthcare also reportedly tweeted that it has been seven months since the first jab. "It's evident now that those over 60 or with comorbidities and healthcare workers and frontline workers need a third shot of the vaccine after 6-8 months," the report quoted his tweet.

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Mishra acknowledged the ethical issue that vaccine doses should "suffice for the whole population and should be on schedule" for the booster dose to come into the picture.

This adds to the larger controversy around the booster dose ever since US President Joe Biden suggested it for certain sections of the population. It is being seen as ‘unethical’ that some beneficiaries should receive a third dose of the vaccine when many third-world countries are yet to vaccinate their entire population with the first.

Adar Poonawalla, CEO of Serum Institute of India, said it was "not right" to roll out booster shots when poorer countries have "not been able to get the vaccines purely because the rich nations have taken away most of the vaccines".

Another section of experts in India is thinking along the same lines, saying that a booster shot can be given in an ideal scenario where most people are fully vaccinated, but not now, when less than 25 per cent of the population has received both doses.

Immunologist Satyajit Rath said that less than 15 per cent of Indian adults have been vaccinated with two doses, and this clearly means that all Indians “who are more vulnerable to infection” have not yet necessarily gotten two doses.

“I, therefore, think that it is ethically premature to begin planning the third dose to a fortunate category of people at this stage,” Rath, from New Delhi's National Institute of Immunology (NII), told PTI.

Immunologist Vineeta Bal agreed, saying India should not think of providing booster doses at this stage when about 40 per cent of the eligible population is yet to receive the first dose.  

NITI Aayog member V K Paul had said earlier this month that booster dose is not central to the country’s current strategy against the Covid vaccine.

There are countries that have already started administering booster doses, including the US, France and Uruguay, which is prioritising this shot for frontline and healthcare workers, people aged above 60 and those aged between 18 and 64 with comorbidities.

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