Active COVID-19 cases in India have risen for the past 23 days after falling well below 10,000, but there appears to be little interest among people for getting a preventive vaccine booster dose.
Over the last one week, India reported 91 percent more infections compared to the week before. On Wednesday alone, the country registered 8,822 new infections--the highest in 108 days. The new cases marked a 34 percent increase from the previous day.
Even so, there seems to be little interest among citizens aged between 18 and 59 years to get a booster jab of the coronavirus disease vaccine although several states are now offering the shots free in government hospitals for all adults.
A look at the figures shared by the Union health ministry shows that of the 3,96, 336, 71 COVID-19 booster shots administered so far, just about 3,555,347 (or less than 9 percent, are for those in 18-59 age group.
On June 14 too, of 305,724 booster shots administered across India, just 82, 039 shots were given to people in that cohort.
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.
A majority of healthcare and frontline workers and those above 60 years who are eligible for the precautionary doses have completed 9 months since their second dose, and have received booster shots.
“We are worried about the extremely slow pace of vaccination among the younger age group and this is particularly concerning given the rise in cases.,” said a senior health ministry official.
The Centre wrote a letter to all the states on June 9, asking them to focus on testing, tracking, treating, vaccinating and following COVID-appropriate behaviour to keep the pandemic under control.
In addition, the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation is set to brainstorm on raising booster coverage in the coming days.
‘Some protection rather than none’
Public health researcher Dr Oommen John, who is associated with the George Institute for Global Health in Delhi, pointed to a general perception that COVID 19- transmission has stopped.
“This could be a reason for sluggish demand for boosters,” he said.
According to Dr Bishnu Panigrahi, group head of medical strategy and operations at Fortis Healthcare, India’s overall vaccination coverage has been exceptionally good, but the current surge in infections is not linked to vaccination.
“It’s because we have got back to normal and most importantly, not wearing masks has been the cause of people getting affected,” he said.
“One needs to be clear that vaccination does not prevent one from getting Covid, but it prevents serious hospitalisation and death,” said Panigrahi.
He added that while people who received three vaccine doses are also getting infected, that’s mainly because of travel or being in close proximity with others when indoors and not wearing a mask.
Dr Laxman Jessani, infectious disease specialist with Apollo Hospitals in Navi Mumbai, said the COVID-19 surge has likely been caused by Omicron sub-variants such as BA.4 and BA.5, which may escape immunity given by vaccine boosters.
“Yet I would suggest booster doses should be given as they would provide some protection rather than none at all,” he said.
More infections among those boosted?
John pointed to news reports about widespread transmission of the virus in countries with high vaccination and booster coverage.
Data presented by the Centre for Disease Control in the USA recently, for example, showed that the rate of COVID-19 infection among Americans who have received booster shots was 119 cases per 100,000 people—more than double the rate among those fully vaccinated but not boosted.
Experts have said that this could be because of abandoning preventive behaviour and seeking tests in higher numbers when symptoms of COVID-19 infection arise among those who have received booster jabs.