Government reduces gap between Covid booster and second shot to 6 months; experts welcome the move

The Centre has decided to reduce the gap between the precautionary dose or booster shot and the second Covid vaccine shot from nine to six months. According to Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan’s letter to states, the third dose to those eligible can be given after the completion of six months or 26 weeks from the date of administration of the second dose.

At present, the precaution dose is available free of cost at government vaccination centres for those who fall in the priority groups  — frontline workers, healthcare workers, and the elderly population aged above 60 years. For those aged 18-59, the precaution dose is available only at private vaccination centres.

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“In the view of evolving scientific evidence and global practices, ‘Standing Technical Sub Committee’ (STSC) of ‘National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation’ (NTAGI) has recommended to revise the duration between 2nd dose and precaution dose from existing 9 months or 39 weeks to 6 months or 26 weeks. This has also been endorsed by NTAGI,” Bhushan wrote in the letter.

booster The booster is considered to help maintain strong protection from severe disease probabilities (representative) (Source: Express Photo by Amit Mehra)

For the unversed, the Covid-19 booster or precautionary dose is an additional dose of the Covid vaccine that is administered to ensure immunity against the deadly virus. The booster is considered to help maintain strong protection from severe disease probabilities. According to the World Health Organization, the objective of a booster dose is to restore vaccine effectiveness from that deemed no longer sufficient.

According to Dr Sonam Solanki, consultant pulmonologist and bronchoscopist, Masina Hospital, Byculla, Mumbai, the decision to reduce the gap from nine months to six months is “more of an administrative decision, rather than a medical one, and rightfully so”. “There has been a low uptake in the Covid precautionary dose since it’s availability in January. The recent spike in cases makes the population at risk of clinically significant Covid re-infection, too. It no longer makes sense to stop the movement of people in terms of lockdowns and curfews, and the only thing in our hands is to vaccinate the vulnerable populations,” she mentioned.

Many people have skipped the booster doses. But, taking a booster shot will strengthen immunity to fight Covid-19 and keep everyone around you safe as well, said Dr Bipin Jibhkate, consultant critical care medicine, and ICU director Wockhardt Hospitals, Mira Road. “A booster shot may help against the current or future variants, and there are no major side effects of it,” he said.

Natural immunity wanes after 3-4 months, said the expert, stressing that the move to reduce the duration of the precautionary dose from 9 to 6 months is one of the strategies adopted by the NTAGI.

“A booster shot optimises the immune system to fight against Covid-19. So, take it without delay. If one is immunocompromised or is above 60, then a second booster shot is a must,” said Dr Jibhkate.

Is there any minimum gap recommended between doses?

Dr Jibhtake shared that the gap is determined by pharmaceutical company studies, and the government policy. “Because the immunity build up stays for 3-4 months, at least, that gap should be maintained, said Dr Solanki. “Once we have more data, we can comment on a lesser duration,” she added.

The flexibility of a shorter interval before the booster will increase vaccination coverage for a more significant proportion of individuals, said Dr Sanjith Saseedharan, consultant and head critical care, SL Raheja Hospital, Mahim-A Fortis Associate. “More people boosted means a higher pool of immunised individuals, which will help reduce the virus’s circulation and thus reduce the emergence of variants or another wave,” Dr Saseedharan said.

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