With Festive Season Ahead, It’s Time To Take Pending Booster Shot: NTAGI Chief

New Delhi: The festive season is round the corner and so is the risk of contracting the virus. People should come forward to take their pending precautionary shots against COVID-19 ahead of the festive season, NTAGI chief NK Arora has said urging the need to adopt “caution” for at least the next four months.

“After four months, maybe we will be in a position to go back to normalcy as much as possible,” Arora told News18 in an exclusive interview, adding that disciplined behaviour would also restrict the emergence of new strains.

Arora heads the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI), an apex panel that takes critical decisions on the use and deployment of coronavirus vaccines in India. “While the population hasn’t shown much enthusiasm towards taking booster shots, the Centre’s move to make doses available for free across public healthcare facilities has increased the demand. The demand for booster doses has picked up after they were made freely available in government centres. Earlier, on an average, around two lakh doses were administered on a daily basis whereas now it has moved to somewhere between 25-40 lakh doses per day,” he told News18.

While price plays an important role in convincing people to get boosters, another critical reason is client convenience, he said. “When access becomes convenient, it is easy to push people to go and get it at no cost. For instance, there were just 1,000-2,000 private centres where these boosters were given before they became free of cost.” He further explained that in July, when the government announced free boosters for all and made them available in all central government-run vaccination centres, more than 40,000 centres started administering the jab.

“The role of public healthcare is significant and access becomes easier,” he said, adding that “we can understand this fact by considering that a mere six per cent of all Covid-19 vaccine doses administered in the country were administered by the private sector”.

However, a push is still needed to increase the coverage. “Overall, the response to booster dose is still dull and I won’t call the trend of slow uptake encouraging yet.” According to Arora, people have become complacent and don’t feel the need to take the third shot.

“Moreover, people have been seeing that the latest strain causes mild symptoms. Hence, there is no associated paranoia with taking jabs. Also, they have not heard any news about the emergence of new variants in India or globally, which strengthens complacency,” he was quoted as saying.

Meanwhile, Arora said India is actively mapping the circulation of variants by several techniques, including sewage surveillance. “We are actively working on strengthening surveillance mechanisms to create infrastructure and technology to tackle future pandemics.”

“All the upcoming vaccines, including BB intranasal and mRNA by Genova, can be used in booster doses as primary vaccination has already taken place in India,” he said, adding that so far, there is no indication if there will be a need to continue taking COVID-19 booster shots similar to flu shots or if having just one shot is sufficient.

“Right now, the evidence shows that the vaccines used in India give us strong cellular immunity. However, we have to wait for further studies to understand the booster scenario in the long run.”

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