Omicron: INSACOG wants booster dose for those above 40

INSACOG recommends Covid-19 booster shot for those above 40 amid Omicron concerns

Currently 49% of the adult population is fully vaccinated whereas more than 84% received a single dose

Representative image. credit: AFP Photo

Is there a difference within the central government on the booster dose of Covid-19 vaccine?

While the union government’s Covid genome research body INSACOG has suggested such a dose for those 40 years of age and over, first targeting the most high-risk / high-exposure groups, NITI Ayog member Vinod Paul, one of the government’s advisors on Covid-19, said “scientific reasoning” for a booster dose was “under examination.”

“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,” the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genome Sequencing Consortium (INSACOG) said in its latest weekly bulletin that came out on November 29 – three days after the WHO described Omicron as a “variant on concern.”

Also read: Omicron detected by sheer chance in Bengaluru doctor with no travel history

But when asked if the Centre would consider a booster dose at least for the healthcare workers who received their vaccine nearly ten months ago, Paul on Thursday said, “scientific reasoning to provide a booster dose and at what time and with what vaccine are under examination.”

The government’s priority, he said, would be to complete the two-dose vaccination for all the 94.47 crore adults. Currently 49% of the adult population is fully vaccinated whereas more than 84% received a single dose.

During a debate in the Lok Sabha, several Parliamentarians had flagged the issue of booster doses of Covid-19 vaccines and expressed concern over the Omicron variant, two cases of which were detected in Karnataka. But Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya said a decision on booster dose and Covid jabs for children would be taken on the basis of scientific guidance from experts.

But senior scientist Anurag Agrawal, director, CSIR Institute of Genomics & Integrative Biology favoured a booster dose since Omicron has all the attributes to create a third wave because of its powerful immune escape mechanism. "We must give healthcare workers an appropriate way of protecting themselves with a booster shot of vaccine," he said.

The debate on the booster shot comes at a time when a study published in the Lancet showed ix different Covid-19 boosters were safe and increased immunity when given after two doses of AstraZeneca (same as Covishield) or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines with variations in immune responses.

A randomised, phase 2 trial of Covid-19 booster vaccines conducted in the UK finds seven such vaccines increase immunity when given 10-12 weeks after two doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca, and six increase immunity following two doses of Pfizer-BioNTech.

Watch the latest DH videos: