Now Reading
While Vaccine Advisory Body Is Yet To Decide, IMA Asks for Booster Doses

While Vaccine Advisory Body Is Yet To Decide, IMA Asks for Booster Doses

A woman and her son walk past a graffiti on a street in Mumbai, December 1, 2021. Photo: Reuters/Hemanshi Kamani/File Photo

  • In a statement, the IMA appealed to the Centre to announce booster doses for healthcare and frontline workers and immunocompromised individuals.
  • On the same day, the NTAGI, the Indian government’s immunisation advisory body, met to discuss booster doses. The meeting concluded without a decision.
  • The IMA’s statement also implied that the omicron variant is less able to cause severe disease with a degree of certainty that isn’t backed by current research.

New Delhi: On the day the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation met to take a call on booster doses of COVID-19 vaccines in India, the Indian Medical Association (IMA) issued a demand for third doses for India’s healthcare workers – the first of its kind in the IMA’s books since the pandemic began.

In a statement on December 6, the medical body said, “IMA appeals to the government on the eve of the impending third wave, to officially announce the health care, front line workers and immune-compromised individuals to be given an additional dose to augment the immunity (sic).”

Last week, at a press conference in New Delhi, Vinod K. Paul, the chairman of India’s COVID-19 task force, had clarified that there wasn’t enough evidence to initiate a programme to administer third doses, in a response to a question specifically about healthcare workers.

“With an impending wave, when more and more people will come to the hospitals, it is the healthcare workers who are going to take the bullet,” IMA national president J.A. Jaylal told The Wire Science. “They have some immunity as of now but when they are going to deal with a much higher load of patients and get much more exposed to the virus as compared to the present days, they will obviously need better safety gear in the form of a boosted immunity.”

Jaylal said that according to his estimation, a third dose for healthcare workers and frontline workers would mean an additional 3 crore doses. “When our private hospitals have not been able to utilise more than 4% doses of what was allotted to them, why not divert the remaining ones for healthcare and frontline workers,” Jaylal asked.

Meanwhile, a substantial number of healthcare workers are yet to take the second doses of their COVID-19 shots. According to a November 6 bulletin issued by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, 10.38 million healthcare workers had taken their first doses but only 9.54 had taken their second doses as well – a difference of 836,608.

Jaylal, however, called this difference of 8% “negligible”. “It might be due to some vaccine hesitancy or some rituals. But healthcare workers can’t be singled out in a democracy,” he added. “Even some school teachers have refused to take jabs. This can’t be an [excuse] for not giving a third dose.”

The IMA also said in its statement that the new omicron variant of the novel coronavirus has “proved” to be less able to produce severe infections but that it is “definitely 5 to 10 times more potent in transmissibility than delta”.

However, while the WHO and the global scientific community has largely agreed that the omicron variant is more transmissible than the delta, there is as yet no knowledge about how much more, or if the omicron can cause more or less severe disease. Studies to this effect are currently underway.

“It will take us a few more days to get this information,” Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead on COVID-19, had said in a statement three days ago.

This said, more than 30 countries have already rolled out booster doses for their COVID-19 vaccines – most of them before the omicron variant surfaced.

At this point, whether the Indian government will accept IMA’s demands depends on the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation’s meeting. And according to sources familiar with the matter, the meeting concluded without a decision on booster doses for elderly and immunocompromised people.

Earlier, in a bulletin dated November 29, the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Consortium on Genomics (INSACOG) had recommended a third (or booster) dose for those older than 40 years of age, and among them first for the most high-risk and/or high-exposure citizens, in the light of the omicron variant. The bulletin added a caveat: that these doses shouldn’t be rolled out at the cost of administering doses to those who are still unvaccinated or partially vaccinated.

With the bulletin, INSACOG became the first government body to bat for booster doses – only for it to backtrack a week later, saying it only intended to raise a point of discussion.

Paediatric vaccination

The IMA also said in its statement that “in most of the African countries there is a sudden increase” in paediatric COVID-19 infections. So the body demanded that the Indian government expedite a proposal to vaccinate children aged 12-18 years.

Note that four months ago, India’s Drug Controller General granted emergency-use authorisation for Zydus Cadila’s COVID-19 vaccine for use among children aged 12-18 years as well as by adults. But it hasn’t been rolled out yet.

The Union health ministry said in a statement last week that it will be rolled out only in seven states to begin with, and only for adults – preferably for those who have missed out on even the first dose of any of the extant COVID-19 vaccines in the market.

Scroll To Top