Even as cases in some major cities and states of India such as Delhi, and Haryana show an uptick of Covid-19 cases, the union government on Friday announced that all adults above the age of 18 will be eligible for booster shots of the Covid-19 vaccine. The boosters or precautionary shots have become available to all from Sunday, April 10.
While making the announcement on Twitter, Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya said that the boosters will add "an extra layer of safety!
Who can take the booster shots?
All those above the age of 18 who have completed nine months after the administration of the second dose will be eligible for the precaution dose, it said.
In an announcement on Friday, the Union Health Ministery said that it has been decided to make the booster available to the 18-plus population group at private vaccination centres.
Healthcare workers (HCWs), frontline workers (FLWs) and citizens aged 60 years and above shall continue to receive the precaution dose at the vaccination centres, including free vaccination at the government vaccination centres.
Where and how to get the booster shots?
This facility would be available at all private vaccination centres. Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan, who held an orientation meeting of the health secretaries of all the states and Union territories on Saturday, also informed that no fresh registration would be required for the precaution dose as all due beneficiaries are already registered on the CoWIN platform.
All vaccinations must mandatorily be recorded on CoWIN and both the options of "online appointment" and "walk-in" registration and vaccination will be available at the private Covid vaccination centres (CVCs).
The private CVCs will maintain the vaccination sites in accordance with the guidelines issued earlier by the Union health ministry.
What is the cost of the booster shot?
After the announcement, vaccine maker Serum Institute of India (SII) said the precaution dose of its Covishield vaccine will be priced at Rs 600 per shot for eligible individuals. "End-users will pay Rs 600 for the booster dose and the hospitals will get at a discounted price," SII CEO Adar Poonawalla said in a statement. According to further guidelines released by the Centre on Saturday, private vaccination centres can charge up to a maximum of Rs 150 per dose as service charge over and above the cost of the vaccine.
What was the need for Boosters?
The emergence of Omicron with at least 30 mutations within most vaccines' target region -- the spike protein -- raised an alarm about its immune escape from vaccine-induced neutralising antibodies, thereby leading to increased transmissibility and causing breakthrough and reinfection, senior scientist at the National Institute of Virology (NIV) in Pune, Dr Pragya Yadav, told PTI.
Additionally, reports of waning of antibody responses against the emerging variants of concern (VoCs) of virus for other approved vaccines have raised concern globally, she said.
Around the world, several studies and research have shown that a third booster dose of Covid-19 may be effective in neutralising new variants.
What are the vaccine mixing rules in India?
As of now, mixing of COVID-19 vaccines is not allowed in the country which means the precaution dose will be the same vaccine as the first and the second dose. The Centre on Saturday told the states that the precaution dose will be of the same COVID-19 vaccine as the one used for the administration of the first two doses.
What is the best booster?
While there is debate about which is the best available Covid-19 booster in India, a recent study found Covaxin to have higher effectiveness as a booster. A booster dose of Covaxin administered six months after the two dose primary vaccination has shown elevated immune responses against SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern including Omicron and protection from severe disease, a study by ICMR and Bharat Biotech - the creator of Covaxin - has found.
Reaction to booster announcement?
SII CEO Adar Poonawalla also welcomed the government's move to allow precaution doses of the vaccine to all aged above 18 years at private vaccination centres, saying it will further provide long-term protection against the virus, and aid ease of travel.
The ongoing free COVID-19 inoculation programme through government vaccination centres for the first and the second dose to the eligible population as well as the precaution dose to healthcare workers, frontline workers and those above 60 years will be accelerated, the ministry stated.
On Sturday, the centre conducted a detailed orientation of the state officials regarding the various new provisions made on CoWIN for the expansion of the eligible population for the precaution dose and also for the correction of the vaccination certificates by citizens.
The states were also advised to accelerate the administration of the ongoing free Covid vaccination with the first dose and the second dose to the population above 12 years of age and for optimal administration of the precaution dose for the HCWs, the FLWs and those aged 60 and above at the government CVCs.
India's vaccination status
So far, about 96 per cent of all those above the age of 15 years in the country have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, while about 83 per cent have received both doses.
More than 2.4 crore precaution doses have also been administered to healthcare workers, frontline workers and those aged above 60 years. Besides, 45 per cent of beneficiaries in the 12-14 years age group have also received the first dose, the ministry said.
The cumulative number of COVID-19 vaccine doses administered in the country has exceeded 185.38 crore.
(With inputs from PTI)