Decision on booster dose will be based on scientific evidence: Mandaviya

“There is no actual recommendation on boosters -- just a possibility as we get evidence for immune escape,” he said
A decision on the booster dose and jabs for children will be taken on the basis of scientific evidence, Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya told Parliament on Friday.

Mandaviya’s statement comes a day after the Indian SarsCov-2 Genomic Sequencing Consortium (INSACOG) suggested a booster dose be given to those above 40 with high risk. 

Mandaviya also talked about the steps being taken to tackle Omicron fears. He told the Lok Sabha that RTPCR tests of 16,000 passengers from “at-risk” countries had been conducted so far. Of those 18 have tested positive. The minister added the decision on the booster dose could either be “scientific” or “political”.

“Our scientists and expert group will guide us,” he said.

INSACOG in its weekly bulletin said booster doses for those aged 40 and above -- first targeting the most high-risk and high-exposure people -- might be considered since low levels of neutralising antibodies from current vaccines were unlikely to be sufficient to counteract Omicron.

Anurag Agarwal, director, Council of Scientific and Industrial Research–Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology, and part of INSACOG, told Business Standard its bulletin mentioned vaccinating the unvaccinated and was considering boosters for high-risk groups.

“There is no actual recommendation on boosters -- just a possibility as we get evidence for immune escape,” he said.

The health ministry, meanwhile, said the severity of Omicron was anticipated to be low owing to the fast pace of vaccination in India and the high exposure to delta variants as shown by high seropositivity.

FIGHTING COVID
  • Top genome scientists have said booster doses for those above 40 years may be considered
  • INSACOG in its weekly bulletin also recommended vaccination of all remaining unvaccinated at-risk people
  • As of now, the US and Britain have recommended booster doses for all adults, six months after the second dose
  • Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya (pictured) told Lok Sabha that RT-PCR tests of 16,000 passengers from ‘at-risk’ countries have been conducted so far, of whom 18 tested positive for Covid-19
On whether there would be a third wave due to Omicron, the ministry said the scale and magnitude of the rise in cases and, importantly, the severity of disease were not clear.

“It is likely to spread to more countries including India ... scientific evidence is still evolving.”

The government said while there was no evidence to suggest that the existing vaccines did not work on Omicron, some of the mutations reported on the spike gene might decrease their efficacy. INSACOG said that delta continued to be the main “variant of concern” in India.

“A fair and effective strategy for detecting and containing entry of Omicron into India is being implemented, since based on the preliminary data, it is likely that population immunity and vaccine-induced immunity may not sufficiently block its propagation,” it has noted.

Specific cluster outbreaks of Covid-19 in various parts of the country are also being investigated, INSACOG said. This includes two reported cases in Karnataka currently being investigated by the state surveillance programme.



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