Amid concerns of waning immunity, experts push for boosters
Experts said that citizens should still follow self-precautionary measures to avoid getting infected if a possible surge is around the corner
Mumbai With the state lifting all Covid-induced restrictions in the city, including the mask mandate, medical experts have sounded alarm bells over waning immunity in the population that was administered the Covid vaccine in the early phase of the inoculation drive.
The coverage of booster doses is still minimal and a large section of the under-18 population is yet to get vaccinated in the city. Experts said that citizens should still follow self-precautionary measures to avoid getting infected if a possible surge is around the corner.
Infectious disease specialist Dr Om Srivastava, who is also on the state’s Covid task force, said that there is little known about the vaccines even today. “But just like the influenza vaccines, which offer immunity for up to eight months, we believe that the response of Covid vaccines would be very similar. In that case, waning immunity is a definite reality,” said Srivastava.
He further added, “At the moment, the responsibility is on each individual to protect themselves. Those who are yet to get the vaccines, must take it quickly and those eligible for boosters, must not delay them. Also, basic Covid-appropriate behaviour must be followed for the time being.”
“We don’t have data on the kind of immune response that the population has generated through vaccines or through natural infections,” said Dr Vineeta Bal, an immunologist from the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Pune.
“A new variant called XE has been detected in the UK. With all Covid curbs gone, people have a relaxed attitude now. But in order to avoid any major setback in the progress that we have made, we must take precautions and push for vaccinations and boosters,” she added.
In Maharashtra, 18,66,066 people have taken the booster dose. The Centre has allowed boosters only for healthcare workers, frontline workers and people above 60. Medical experts have expressed concern about those with comorbid conditions who struggle to mount an immune response and may be in more need of boosters.
“The immunity after two doses will wane, but the immunity after the booster will wane very slowly,” said Vellore-based virologist Dr T Jacob John. “The government experts are wrong in assuming that two-dose is a complete vaccination schedule. A complete vaccination schedule must be of three doses, and everyone who has received two doses must be given the third shot,” said John.
According to John, in addition to boosters, the government must promote the use of masks in places like trains, buses, waiting areas etc. “Society has to come back to normalcy but the new normal should be with masks. It is an additional precaution that will help us tide through amid the risk of new variants,” he said.
The nationwide vaccination drive for Covid-19 began on January 16, 2021. The initial phases saw healthcare workers, frontline workers, senior citizens and those with comorbid conditions getting the jabs. In the third wave of the pandemic, driven by the Omicron variant, a large number of people had breakthrough infections (infections after complete vaccination) as well as reinfections. Doctors said that these fresh infections have also played a role in boosting the immunity of the population.