Experts unsure about Covid boosters amid Omicron spread

Experts unsure about Covid boosters as Omicron continues to spread

While studies have shown that boosters are safe and give good immune response, experts believe it's too early to start giving out boosters

Representative image. Credit: AFP file photo

The Omicron variant of Covid-19 has resumed a worldwide debate on the need of booster shots of vaccines, and while some countries have gone ahead with boosters, experts remain unsure.

A recent study by The Lancet has shown that six boosters - from AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Novavax, Janssen, Moderna, and Curevac - are safe and show good immune response with less side effects. However, experts say India should prioritise double-dose vaccination before it considers boosters.

Speaking to Mint, epidemiologist Chandrakant Lahariya said "booster doses may be needed in due course, but they should be based on an independent scientific decision, not because we reached a certain level of double-dose coverage or because surplus doses are lying unused."

He also said that the presence of surplus stock that is nearing expiry is no grounds for going ahead with boosters. "India is likely to have sufficient supply for quite some time. But excess supply cannot be a criterion for booster shots. Unused supplies can be used in other ways: giving them free of cost, the government or manufacturers buying them back, or more exports," he said.

India's Covid genome research body INSACOG had also put its weight behind booster shots, saying “vaccination of all remaining unvaccinated at-risk people and a booster dose for those 40 years of age and over, first targeting the most high-risk / high-exposure may be considered, since low levels of neutralising antibodies from current vaccines are unlikely to be sufficient to neutralise Omicron, although risk of severe disease is still likely to be reduced,” though it later said that many more scientific experiments are needed to assess the impacts of booster dose.

Administering booster shots early would be a matter of ethics and fairness, Ramanan Laxminarayan, director of the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy, told Mint. "Are we better off focusing on the unvaccinated or in boosting immunity in those already vaccinated?" he asked. “All priorities come at a cost, and it will be deeply unfortunate if the focus on the booster shots comes at the cost of vaccinating more of India’s population that remains at risk."

On the other hand, there are some experts who are more favourable to booster shots for protection against the viral disease. Professor Lawrence Young, virologist and Professor of Molecular Oncology, Warwick Medical School, University of Warwick, told DH that "it is very likely that full vaccination and booster jabs with current vaccines will be able to protect from disease caused by the Omicron variant as they do for all the other variants."

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