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Omicron spread: Booster dose takes off, day 1 nears 1-million mark

A mid global surge in Covid cases, the Omicron variant and waning immunity, the rolling out of the third Covid vaccine shot came as a relief to over 930,000 beneficiaries who lined up on Monday for their precautionary dose after a long wait.

On Day One, 936,264 beneficiaries received their third shot of the vaccine, according to provisional data on CoWIN portal. Gujarat administered the maximum number of such doses (over 150,000), followed by Andhra Pradesh (over 112,000).

A visibly relieved N Ravishankar, a medical officer at Coimbatore government medical college who was one of the first to get the “booster dose” at his centre, said, “You should not take the virus home and give it to your kids.”

Nearly 57.5 million people are eligible for the precautionary dose announced by the government for healthcare and frontline workers, and those above 60 years of age with comorbidities. Of these, 10 million are healthcare workers and 20 million are frontline workers.

They are eligible for the precautionary dose nine months after their second vaccine shot. Vaccination for the elderly began in March 2021.

For many healthcare staff, however, the third shot remained elusive as several were down with Covid and would have to wait for three months to get their dose. Many doctors felt that a gap of nine months should be relaxed for healthcare staff as the country is in the middle of a third wave.

“A recent study on Covaxin shows that boosters work when given after six months,” said a Mumbai based doctor. “Many of us are not eligible for a vaccine shot if we stick to the government guidelines — which prescribe a nine-month gap after the second dose, and at least three months’ gap after recovering from Covid-19. Many healthcare staff caught Covid recently, and this puts them off the list,” the doctor added.

Some others, however, feel that even though there is a slight delay, the third dose has come at the right time as Omicron cases are now rising. “In hindsight, we are all wiser. But we had limited stocks. The government had to prioritise the double-dose vaccination for as many as possible, and rightly so,” said Bishnu Panigrahi, group head, Medical Strategy and Operations, Fortis Healthcare and member of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry’s (FICCI’s) Covid group.

In the morning, vaccinations in Mumbai were off to a slow start due to some technical issues with walk-in registrations on the CoWin platform, which slightly delayed the process in some hospitals. “Today, only 200 vaccines were given. We plan to start the healthcare workers’ vaccination in full swing from Tuesday,” said Joy Chakraborty, chief operating officer of Hinduja Hospital.

Hinduja has a staff of 2,800 at its hospital. It will also offer precautionary shots to healthcare staff from across the city who do not have vaccination centres at their institutions.

In West Bengal, the vaccination drive started almost glitch-free. “Wherever vaccination is happening, doses to eligible recipients are being administered. This is actually software-driven and those who got text messages turned up for the shot,” said West Bengal state family welfare officer Ashim Das Malakar.

The state has assessed a requirement of 500,000 doses this month towards the new drive. “We have adequate doses,” Malakar added.

More than “boosters”, states such as Tamil Nadu are concerned about primary double vaccination. “We are not sure about the interest for the third dose as more than 9.3 million are yet to even take the second dose, despite so much persuasion by meeting in person and even offering gifts,” said T S Selvavinayagam, director of public health, Tamil Nadu.

In all, 1.04 million people are eligible for the third dose in the state. “I don’t think any health worker will stay away from taking vaccines as they are the most educated in this respect,” Ravishankar added.

In Kerala, where more than 30,000 precautionary doses were given, there were queues of health workers to take the jab. “Unless we take the dose, we may be transmitting the disease to those with comorbidities. At the Ayyampuzha primary health centre where I work, except for a couple of people, all the 30-35 staff took the fresh dose today,” said Mathews Numpeli, a senior government doctor from Kerala.

Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai inaugurated the state’s precautionary dose campaign to give the third jab to 21 million frontline workers and senior citizens. “I urge all our eligible citizens to arm themselves against Covid-19 and its variants and help save lives,” he said at the inaugural event. Business Standard

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