Worried about waning immunity levels against the coronavirus, doctors and public health experts feel there is a need to give booster shots to healthcare and frontline workers who were the first to receive their jabs when India started its vaccination drive in January this year.
Doctors feel they are at a greater risk and hence the need to take a booster dose gains significance. “Booster doses to those who are in the frontline, and are at high risk, speaks of good common sense,” said Anoop Misra, chairman of Fortis-C-DOC hospital in Delhi. There is evidence showing that antibodies wane over time, he said, adding: “Ethical issue is that vaccine doses should otherwise suffice for the whole population and should be on schedule.”
There is a need to rework the strategy, say public health experts. Within the government, experts are of the view that there is no such need.
Earlier this month, Niti Aayog member VK Paul said the World Health Organization had not given any recommendation and the issue was still “unsettled”.
“It’s evident now that those over 60 or with comorbidities and healthcare workers and frontline workers need a third shot of the vaccine after 6-8 months. It’s seven months since our second jab,” tweeted Ambrish Mithal, chairman & head of endocrinology & diabetes at Max Healthcare. Mithal said those who have had Covid-19 infection and have been vaccinated can be excluded.
On Wednesday, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorised a booster dose of Pfizer and BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine for people who are 65 years and older, all people at high risk of severe disease, and those who are exposed to the virus.
The decision will result in the rollout of booster shots for millions of people who had received their second dose of the vaccine at least six months ago.
The new recommendation by the FDA will allow boosters to people including healthcare workers, teachers and day-care staff, grocery workers and those in homeless shelters or prisons, FDA acting commissioner Janet Woodcock said in a statement.
Worried about waning vaccine-generated antibodies, some healthcare providers have even started getting their antibody levels checked to see if they are protected, even as these tests don’t provide enough guidance.
Many get these tests done to see their protection levels. But antibodies are not the only immune response, experts say.
There are different pathways of immunity. Post Covid-19 infection and vaccination, the T-cell immunity kicks up which unfortunately cannot be measured in clinical labs. After three weeks, antibodies come into play which are easily measured in the clinical lab. Both combined help the body fight infection,” said Poonam Das, principal director at Max Labs.
Public health experts feel that since the vaccine supply is in surplus, healthcare providers and frontline workers should start getting their third shots done.
“The vaccine generated antibodies start to wane after a few months. There is a need to protect those who are at higher risk. The government should allow the third shots for such groups,” said an expert, speaking on the condition of anonymity.