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.
"We need to know from experts. It should not be based on economics. It is an expensive proposition (since vaccines are largely free). (But) We don't want to land up in a situation where we are overly conservative and we land up in a situation like we were in the second wave. We may lose the advantage," said the bench also comprising Justice Jasmeet Singh.
"This is a very serious thing. We are not experts. But how is it that the West is encouraging booster and we are not permitting even those who want to," said the bench, also observing that the level of antibodies in a vaccinated person comes down after some time, making old people and those with co-morbidities "anxious".
"What is it that the ICMR is saying? What is their stand? If not, there must be some basis. If required, what is the way forward?" the bench, hearing a batch of petitions filed during the spread of Covid in the national capital, said.
Frequently Asked Questions
A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.
There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.
Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.
The court also asked why should vaccines which are set to expire not be given as booster shots to those fully vaccinated.
"Let the Union of India file an affidavit... (on) administering of booster doses of vaccine and the timeline within which it is proposed to be rolled out (if considered necessary)", the court ordered.
Before listing the case for further hearing on December 14, the court also asked the Centre to bring on record its stand on vaccination of children.
The Central government's standing Counsel Anurag Ahluwalia told the court that this issue is already pending before the Chief Justice's court where the Centre has filed an affidavit informing that vaccination for children has already received in-principle approval and trials are ongoing.
"Place it here too," said the bench.
Amicus Curiae and senior advocate Raj Shekhar Rao submitted that the efficiency of a booster shot was a matter of expert opinion and it is for the Centre to come up with a policy.Senior advocate Rahul Mehra, appearing for the Delhi government, emphasised that the right things ought to be done at the right time and stated that most countries in Europe and the US have already started administering booster shots.