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As new Covid variant triggers booster shot demands, where does India stand

New Delhi, Nov 28, 2021: With fresh curbs, travel bans, and booster shots, countries are back to square one after a new highly contagious Covid-19 variant has been identified in South Africa. Amid mounting global concerns, after two South African passengers have tested positive in Bengaluru, panic has gripped India.

The Karnataka government on Saturday announced a host of curbs as it sought to proactively contain the spread of the virus. Along with fresh regulations, the state administration has also asked the Centre for permission to administer booster shots to its frontline workers.

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Taking cognizance of the developments, the Delhi High Court on November 25 directed the Centre to clarify its stand on administering booster doses to those who are fully vaccinated against coronavirus, saying it does not want a second-wave-like situation on account of being conservative. A bench headed by Justice Vipin Sanghi observed that while the western countries are advocating for booster doses, Indian experts were of the view that there was no medical evidence to support it.

As the voices for booster shots of the Covid-19 vaccine are growing louder, senior government officials will soon discuss the policy on the third vaccine jab in the country.

As this development emerges, here’s a quick understanding of booster shots:

What is a Booster Shot?
A COVID-19 booster shot is an additional dose of a vaccine given after the protection provided by the original shots has begun to decrease over time. Typically, one would get a booster after the immunity from the initial doses naturally starts to wane. The booster is designed to help people maintain their level of immunity for longer.

Which Countries are Offering Booster Shots?
The World Health Organisation (WHO) expert panel recommended that Individuals with weaker immune systems should be offered an additional or booster shot of Covid-19 vaccine. Over 36 countries are currently administering booster shots including- Israel, the United Kingdom, the United States of India, Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Germany, New Zealand, Hungary, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Sweden, China, Denmark, Finland, Indonesia, Italy, and Chile.

What is India’s Stand on Booster Shots?
An expert group has been working on formulating a policy document on the third vaccine dose in the country. The third Covid-19 vaccine shot could be first recommended as an additional dose and not a booster shot. The additional dose is administered to immunocompromised people while a booster shot is given to healthy people after a few months of receiving the second dose, sources told News 18.

A study in examined the vaccines’ effectiveness against the delta variant over time. It found that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is about 90 percent effective at preventing symptomatic infection two weeks after the second dose but drops to 70 percent effective after five months. The same study found that the Moderna vaccine’s protection also drops over time. These studies have prompted several experts on the issue of a booster shot. However, opinions vary on the issue.

India’s Vaccination Drive
The Union Health Ministry has said that the cumulative Covid-19 vaccine doses administered in the country crossed 121.84 crore. Over 73 lakh (73,74,792) vaccine doses were administered till 7 pm on Saturday. While the countrywide vaccination drive was rolled out on January 16 with healthcare workers getting inoculated in the first phase, the vaccination of frontline workers started from February 2. The country launched vaccination for all people aged more than 45 years from April 1. The government then decided to expand its vaccination drive by allowing everyone above 18 to be vaccinated from May 1.

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