‘Nine-month wait for booster shot too long, anti-science’

Noted Gujarati-origin clinical immunologist and immunopathologist Professor Pravin Hissaria has strong words for “whoever has advised” the Central government to offer booster shots to people nine months after he or she was administered the second shot of the vaccine. The India-born, Adelaide, Australia-based public health specialist was the one who created the protocol early last year for outpatient management of severe Covid-19 at the behest of the Rheumatology Association of Gujarat.

“Advocating boosters after nine months of primary vaccine series is completely wrong advice,” he says, emphasising that it is a dangerous proposition for the elderly and the immunocompromised, meaning whoever has an impaired immune system. As the country witnesses a surge in Covid cases thanks to the third wave of the pandemic, he rues, “There is no shortage of vaccines in India.”

The Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR), the apex body in India for the formulation, coordination and promotion of biomedical research, is responsible for issuing guidelines for Covid treatment.

Hissaria reasons why Indian public health authorities are wide off the mark. “All studies worldwide have shown that the protective antibodies decline in five months after primary vaccination with two doses. In addition, Omicron has been shown to require even higher levels of antibodies to prevent replication due to higher number of mutations in spiked regions,” he avers.

The celebrated physician goes on to say that “hence worldwide, the recommendation has been to give booster doses at the 5-6 months mark after primary vaccination”.

 He had earlier said that the Omicron would be highly infectious. In an interview to Open, he had said that Omicron was more likely to be a “Covid flu, and not a Covid disease”.

As the country faces a rising wave of new Covid infections, the government has insisted on people taking booster shots of either Covaxin or Covishield, whichever they had taken earlier. With a total of over 3.91 crore cases, India is the second worst-hit country after the US. The country added 3.5 lakh new Covid cases on Friday.

Hissaria, an alumnus of Lucknow-based Sanjay Gandhi Postgraduate Institute of Medical Sciences, adds, “It is a no-brainer that the vaccination should be offered at the 6-month mark, if not five months. This would prevent another catastrophe from happening like last year. Although Omicron is milder than the delta variant, its inactivity rate is much higher which means that a larger number of people will be infected.” He sums up, “A smaller percentage of a very large number is still very large.”

First published in Open

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