Vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, Comirnaty, standing on a table. Photo: Mat Napo/Unsplash
Noted virologist Shahid Jameel has said – quoting a study conducted by researchers at Imperial College London – that if booster doses are not immediately administered to the elderly and the immunocompromised, there could be 5% more deaths than if they are inoculated.
In an interview with The Wire, Jameel said the Imperial College study showed that after two doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine (called ‘Covishield’ when made and sold in India), protection against severe COVID-19 caused by the omicron variant of the novel coronavirus is only 20% and protection against death, only 30%. After a booster, however, protection against severe disease rises to 80% and against death to 88%.
Jameel also said that the same study showed that without a booster dose, two doses of the Covishield vaccine were only 3% effective at preventing an infection of the omicron variant. But after a booster dose, protection against infection by the omicron goes up to 39% and to 81% against that by delta.
He also said that research from South Africa shows that when confronted with the omicron variant of the novel coronavirus, the neutralising antibodies induced by two doses of the Pfizer vaccine drop 40x – which should be expected to happen following two doses of Covishield as well.
He also said there is no reason to believe the omicron variant could behave differently in India than the way it’s been behaving in Europe, the US and South Africa. This then means that when the new variant starts to spread local, the number of cases will rise in India the way they have in those regions: exponentially. “Even if you look at the data behind the present 150 cases of omicron in India, the doubling time is three days.”
There are currently around 200 cases of infection by this variant in the country.
Jameel pointed out that if the omicron variant spreads exponentially in India, even though the illness it causes may be mild, a large number of people will get infected. If a fraction of that number needs hospitalisation, that fraction will still be a large number in absolute terms. As he put it, a fraction of a large number is still also a large number. That in turn will put pressure on India’s health system, and increase the chances of a collapse.
Jameel also said that only 61% of the eligible population of India has received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and only 40% has received both – which means at least 60% of India is not adequately vaccinated against infection by the omicron variant. In addition, he continued, India’s sero-positivity of 68% will provide insufficient in protecting against reinfections caused by the omicron variant.
According to Jameel, the omicron variant is likely to produce five-times more breakthrough infections (infection after full vaccination) versus the delta variant.