The booster dose, which the Centre is calling precautionary dose, will have to be the same as the first two Covid19 vaccine jabs, the health ministry announced on Wednesday ruling out a combination strategy for now. The drive for the third vaccine dose will take off on January 10, starting with healthcare and frontline workers as well as people over 60 years of age with comorbidities.
The much-awaited announcement on booster dose coincided with India witnessing an exponential increase in cases. Daily infections have risen 6.3 times in the last eight days. The country reported 58,097 fresh cases on Wednesday, taking the total active cases to 214,004. The daily positivity rate has touched 5 per cent. At least one Omicron death, in Rajasthan, was also confirmed by the health ministry. On the positive side, more than 10 million teenagers, between the age of 15 and 18 years, have received their first jab, making it 14 per cent of the eligible category.
The government move to allow homologous or the same third dose as the first two has come as a shot in the arm for Serum Institute of India (SII) which is sitting on 500 million doses of Covishield inventory in its Pune plant. “At present, the Pune site has 250 million finished formulations, and another 250 million in bulk form. We need 80 days to process the bulk into finished doses,” a company source said. In the overall vaccination drive so far, more than 88 per cent doses have been Covishield.
“All arrangements to start this process are on track. As more information comes on mixing or the heterologous approach, we will keep an eye on it,” said V K Paul, chairman of the national Covid task force and member-health Niti Aayog.
Bharat Biotech said it would start to produce 80 million monthly doses of Covaxin in January. This would be available in the market by around March-April. Currently, the company is making 55-60 million doses a month.
Earlier this week, Bharat Biotech’s project lead for Covid19 vaccines Raches Ella had questioned the effectiveness of a third Covishield (AstraZeneca) vaccine dose. Ella had said in a tweet that inactivated and subunit vaccines are best for homologous or heterologous boosting.
Nearly 30 million healthcare and frontline workers will be eligible for a precaution shot. As for the elderly, India has 138 million people above 60 years of age. They would be eligible for the third dose after nine months of the second shot. Vaccination for the elderly had begun in March 2021.
Shahid Jameel, Senior Research Fellow at Green Templeton College at Oxford University had recently said that Covovax would be the ideal booster vaccine for almost 90 per cent of Indians who had received Covishield.
Rising cases, positivity.
Twenty-eight districts in India are reporting more than 10 per cent weekly positivity rate. There are eight emerging states of concern which indicate a surge in cases across the country, the health ministry said. These are Maharashtra, West Bengal, Delhi, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Jharkhand and Gujarat.
Six of these, except Jharkhand and Gujarat, have more than 10,000 active cases currently.
Paul said there’s clearly a steep rise in cases due to the Omicron variant and the government teams are watching the pandemic dynamics closely, especially in large cities.
India is also reporting a sharp increase in case positivity from 0.79 per cent on December 29, 2021, to 5.03 per cent as on January 5, 2022.
“While there has been a sharp surge in cases across countries, hospitalizations have remained relatively lower as compared to earlier surges,” said Lav Agarwal, joint secretary, health ministry.
End isolation after 7 days
With most patients reporting mild symptoms, the health ministry has also issued new guidelines for home isolation, bringing down the quarantine period after testing positive from ten days to seven, with three successive days without fever.
There is no need for a re-test after the home isolation period is over. Health ministry has also said that patient should at all times use triple layer medical mask and discard mask after 8 hours of use.
“Mask should be discarded by cutting them into pieces and putting them in a paper bag for a minimum of 72 hrs.”
The threshold for oxygen saturation has been revised to “SpO2 ≤ 93 per cent on room air” from the earlier guideline of 94 per cent level. Business Standard