The idea is one of several discussed by the government’s expert panel. which is looking at several issues related to Covid-19 booster doses. including reducing the gap for all eligible people to about six months.
According to health ministry data, at least 105.8 million people were eligible for the Covid-19 booster dose.(those who had received both shots of the vaccine as of August 1, 2021) as of May 1, but only 28.3 million have taken one.
India may reconsider the nine-month gap between the second Covid-19 shot and the booster dose for those traveling overseas, especially to countries mandating that arriving travelers have been administered the third shot, people familiar with the matter said. This may be reduced to six months, they added.
Several people have made representations to the central government lately on reducing the gap as many countries have begun asking for a booster dose, creating hurdles for those intending to travel abroad for employment, education, business, or pleasure. In addition, some experts have said that reducing the gap from the current nine months would speed up the booster drive — which is currently lagging.
According to health ministry data, at least 105.8 million people were eligible for the booster dose (those who had received both shots of the vaccine as on August 1, 2021) as on May 1, but only 28.3 million have taken one. The government’s expert advisory panel, the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI) is looking at the available evidence to make recommendations in this regard.
“ NTAGI is looking at data to see if it is good to reduce the gap from the existing nine months. They might prioritize those who urgently need a booster for the purpose of travel as many countries have made it a requirement for travel. However, the ultimate decision will be based on what the opinion is of experts on the technical panel,” said a senior government functionary aware of the matter, on condition of anonymity.
The move also comes as vaccines are being wasted for a lack of people to administer them to (each vial of Covishield for instance, vaccinates 10 people. Several studies have established the fact that antibody levels decline over time in the vaccinated persons, making a case for opening up booster doses to widen the protection. India started booster shots among health care and frontline workers, and in the 60+ age group with comorbidities from January 10, this year. The eligibility was expanded to all adults from April 10.
NTAGI members met on Wednesday to discuss reducing the gap for booster shots and expanding the vaccine drive to children below the age of 11 years. No final decision, however, was taken on both the matters, according to people familiar with the development. With the protection of vaccines against the pathogen falling over time, especially for new variants, experts are all for expanding timely boosting. “It has been seen that some of the vaccine-derived protection is recovered by boosting,” said Anurag Agrawal, former director, CSIR-Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (CSIR-IGIB).