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'Will Not Follow World Blindly': India May Not Expand Precautionary Covid Vaccine Doses for All Ages

A man receives a dose of the COVISHIELD vaccine, in an alley at a slum area.(REUTERS/Amit Dave)

A man receives a dose of the COVISHIELD vaccine, in an alley at a slum area.(REUTERS/Amit Dave)

Since January 10, 86.87 lakh "precaution doses" have been administered to health and frontline workers and those above 60 years with co-morbidities in India.

After a high-level meeting with the WHO on the issue of boosters, the Centre has decided to reconsider its policy regarding giving a nod to precautionary doses of Covid vaccine for all age groups. The National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI) for Covid-19 met WHO officials and said that India “will not blindly follow others” on its booster dose policy.

During the meeting, officials assessed real-world data from countries across the world that are administering booster doses to their population.

A senior government official told The Times of India that the Centre is “rethinking” its booster policy. “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.

Apart from local data, public health experts are also analyzing the infection patterns, behaviour of the virus, emerging variants and viral loads along with breakthrough and reinfections. “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.

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Since January 10, 86.87 lakh “precaution doses" have been administered to health and frontline workers and those above 60 years with co-morbidities in India.

The United Nations on Tuesday had said that it is supporting India’s vaccination drive, which is the largest in the world, and the global body and its partners have reached some 600 million people in the country with COVID prevention and mitigation messages, spokesperson for UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has said. Stephane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General, at the daily press briefing on Tuesday said the UN team in India led by Resident Coordinator Shombi Sharp continues to support authorities to curb the spread of the virus.

“To date, we and our partners have reached some 600 million people in India with COVID prevention and mitigation messages. We are supporting India’s vaccination drive, which is the world’s largest," Dujarric said. “This includes developing robust surveillance and monitoring measures, boosting lab capacity, developing response plans, procuring and distributing personal protective equipment, training health care workers, and disseminating life-saving information," Dujarric said.

The World Health Organization last week said that coronavirus vaccine boosters should now now be offered to people, starting with the most vulnerable, in a move away from its previous insistence that boosters were unnecessary for healthy adults and an acknowledgment that the vaccine supply is improving globally.

At a press briefing on Friday, the U.N. health agency said it was now recommending booster doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, beginning in the highest-priority groups, about four to six months after receiving the first two doses, in line with guidance from dozens of countries that embarked upon booster programs months ago.

Last year, WHO pleaded with rich countries to declare a moratorium on offering booster doses until the end of 2021, an appeal that went almost entirely ignored.

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first published:January 27, 2022, 09:00 IST