Poor response to booster jabs prompts govt rethink



The health ministry is considering whether to extend its campaign to promote free covid-19 booster doses after only around 20% of eligible beneficiaries turned up for the jab over a period of two-and-a-half months.

The campaign, which began on 15 July, is set to end today. As of now, only about 200 million doses of booster jabs have been administered, way below the goal of at least 950 million doses of the free precaution vaccine.

Government experts are of the view that the campaign did not succeed in encouraging more people to come forward to receive free jabs as people have lost their fear of covid-19, particularly because the Omicron variant is thought to be mild.

A decision is expected shortly.

“The uptake of precaution dose coverage has been poor across India even after announcing free precaution doses to all people,” said an official.

“When it was chargeable, we thought that people were not willing to pay for a third dose. Now when we made it free for all above 18 years, the response is not so promising,” added the official requesting not to be named.

“The health ministry is discussing the next steps whether it should be extended further or not with regard to the 75-day free precaution dose campaign. A final decision may come soon.”

According to health ministry data, 208 million booster doses have been administered so far among individuals above 18 years of age, including healthcare workers (7 million), front line workers (13.6 million), elderly (46.9 million) and 141 million other individuals s in the age group of 18-59 years.

Overall, India has administered around 2.18 billion doses under the nationwide covid-19 vaccination campaign which started last year in January. This figure includes the booster doses.

Dr Bobby Bhalotra, pulmonologist at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital said, “Most of my patients have still not completed their vaccination. Covid infections are mild now, but in case a new and dangerous variant emerges then this booster dose will become an additional shield.

Vaccines take time to respond and taking a booster dose now provides its benefit in the future. In fact people have stopped wearing masks. We must continue our preventive tools and a booster dose is a must.”

The booster dose, also known as the third dose or precaution dose, boosts the immunity received from the earlier primary vaccines.

Health ministry data shows particularly poor booster dose uptake in all North-eastern states, Chandigarh, Goa, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Haryana.

Queries emailed to the health ministry spokesperson did not elicit a response while the National Health Authority that manages all vaccination data on the CoWIN portal declined to reply. Dr Anant Mohan, professor at pulmonary department, AIIMS Delhi, said, “People are thinking that Covid is not so serious now… rather it is like another flu, and hence they have become more causal. It is more of the mindset of the people. There is a need for constant education, reinforcement and promotion of booster dose so that people start coming forward to take the booster jabs.”

The US and UK have already authorized a second booster jab for older people and those at high risk, such as immunocompromised individuals, pregnant women and front line health and social care workers.

After a brutal first phase of the pandemic, with over 450 million cases and half-a-million deaths, covid-19 cases have declined to around 4,000 a day in India. However, the Centre has advised the highest level of surveillance, hospitalisation, testing and timely treatment.

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