The Union government does not consider that a second booster dose of coronavirus vaccine is needed and it's therefore not on official agenda, as per a report.
The report comes amid calls from some quarters that the government should roll out the second booster doses of coronavirus vaccines, officially dubbed precaution doses. The calls amid Covid-19 surge in China and elsewhere abroad and concerns of a potential surge in India.
The PTI report cited official sources as saying there is no data available on the utility of a second booster for the currently used vaccines.
India began administering booster doses in January 2022 and till now only 28 per cent of the eligible population have taken it. The Union government has flagged the low booster coverage and has urged people to take their booster doses.
"The need for a second booster dose of Covid vaccines is not on the agenda of the government as of now nor are discussion over it underway. Most importantly, majority of the population are yet to receive a third dose and those who are due for it should take it," an official source told PTI.
Where are 2nd, 3rd boosters available?
While the Union government reject the need for a second booster, countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom are administering third and fourth booster doses to fully vaccinated individuals.
These countries are also administering extra doses to the immunocompromised who did not have a strong immune response from their initial doses.
The idea behind a booster dose is that vaccine-derived immunity wanes after a period of time and boosters therefore update the body's immunity.
Call for 2nd booster in India
Indian Medical Association (IMA) representatives and senior doctors in a meeting on December 26 urged Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya to consider the fourth dose —second booster— for healthcare and frontline workers.
"Healthcare professionals are exposed to a larger number of coronavirus infected patients resulting in repeated exposure to the virus which can trigger more infections among the healthcare community," former IMA president Dr JA Jayalal had said.
"To counter that, they need augmented immunity against the virus," he argued.
Amid a spike in Covid cases in some countries, the Union Health Ministry has sounded an alert, tightened Covid guidelines and asked states and Union territories to prepare for any eventuality. It has also urged them to increase coverage of the precaution dose.
What has government said on boosters?
In a high-level meeting reviewing India's Covid-19 situation last month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had stressed on booster doses. Modi urged that precaution dose may be encouraged especially for vulnerable and elderly groups.
Earlier, NITI Aayog member (Health) Dr VK Paul flagged the very low booster dose coverage among Indians. He said only 27-28 per cent Indians have taken the third booster dose of coronavirus vaccine, dubbed by the government as a precaution dose.
NK Arora, Chairman of National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI), also said "taking a fourth dose is of no value" at the moment.
"Let us assume you want to take another fourth dose. There is a concept what is called as 'antigen sink'. If a person is repeatedly immunised with a particular type of antigen, the body stops responding, or responds poorly. And that is why initially mRNA vaccines are given with a gap of six months. Later on, people are taking at three-month gap. But it has not helped too much in that case. Therefore, at the moment taking a fourth dose is of no value," said Arora in an interview with NDTV.
(With PTI inputs)