- The emergence of Omicron has altered the way several governments across the globe were proceeding ahead with the vaccination drive. No sooner did the medical, scientific, and government authorities think about finally acquiring an adequate arsenal to keep the virus in check, the newer variants taking birth incessantly has succeeded in completely disturbing those plans. Inevitably, these new variants of concern have forced the government authorities to rethink, replan, and reorganize their vaccination drive in line with the dangers envisaged by the experts. The Indian government too should have taken a leaf out of the way many advanced and developed nations changed the vaccination protocols to effectively combat the virulent virus.
- As you are aware, the Union Government has clarified that the precautionary dose will not be a mix and match program thereby resolving worries of supply constraints to a great extent. Mind you, nearly 90% of vaccine recipients have been jabbed with abundantly available Covishield and the Serum Institute of India deserves a round of applause for standing up to deliver when it mattered most. Likewise, even underperforming Bharat Biotech should have enough for third doses of those double dosed with Covaxin. Here, BB could have ramped up its production substantially to complement the SII when the vaccination drive in the country gained pace. As per the Health Ministry, there are 18.4 crore unused doses supplied to states.
- Most hearteningly, the SII has said it does not foresee any problems in stepping up Covishield production even further. Of course, the Union Government could have been more ambitious vis-à-vis vaccine administering protocols restricting eligibility to only those who got their second dose nine months ago. Given comfortable vaccine supply, if the gap was reduced to six months, as many global studies on immunity have suggested it should be, and if the eligible group was 45 and above, many more people would be third-dosed much faster. The present measure allows only 1.26 crore people who received second doses by 10th April 2021, eligible to receive the booster doses on the day of launch i.e. 10th January 2022.
- On the other hand, relaxing the parameters to a six-month gap for those 45 years and above would make as many as 6.8 crore people eligible for the third dose on the exact same day. The Government has cited studies pointing to immunity lasting for nine months after the second jab. Contrarily, a UK Health Security Agency study shows that a third shot has 88% protection from hospitalization against the Omicron variant while this drops to 52% for those who got their second jab over six months ago. Thus, it makes imminent sense to reassess the cutoff date and age ceiling soon.
- Similarly, the Government must also look at progressively relaxing the age bar for child vaccination as 1.27 crore children in the 15-18 age group have been jabbed in three days, raising the possibility of covering this cohort very quickly. Extending the program to include children in the age group of 5-12 after due trials should assume greater importance. We know how every surge is hurting economic activities. As such, widening and deepening the vaccination coverage by being flexible would go a long way in our vaccination endeavors.