Rising Covid-19 numbers in China, Brazil, Japan, and the US prompted the Indian government to sound an alert last week asking citizens to mask up in crowded places and get booster doses. Random Covid testing for international passengers has begun again across several airports in India as well.
The government has advised people to take the booster dose of the Covid vaccine as a precaution.
In China, the new wave of the pandemic emerged late last month after the government lifted its zero-Covid policy and eased the curbs. BBC reported that Beijing alone recorded around 4,000 daily cases last week. According to reports, the hospitals in China continued to be under pressure amid the fresh Covid surge triggered by the BF.7 subvariant of Omicron. The medical resources have also been strained, Reuters reported.
While the government has been stressing the need to get booster shots, the uptake of the third dose, or the first booster dose, in India is currently 30%. Doctors of the Indian Medical Association on Wednesday met union health minister Mansukh Mandaviya and asked him to allow second booster shots, or the fourth dose, as well.
But are the booster doses of the Covid-19 vaccine as necessary as the first two primary doses? BOOM spoke to experts to find out more:
Does everyone need a booster dose?
A booster dose is an additional dose of the vaccine given after the two primary doses to increase the protection against the virus. "The booster helps people maintain strong protection from severe coronavirus disease," according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. In India, one booster dose was made available earlier in 2022 in light of the Omicron wave.
Speaking to BOOM, virologist Gagandeep Kang said not everyone needs to take booster doses. "For younger people, the first (two) doses are the most important. For (people) over 60, I would recommend adding one more dose," Kang said.
Kang pointed out that there was no data to show that a third dose was needed in any age group. But I recommend it as a matter of abundant caution, recognising that it may add a little benefit and is unlikely to harm," she said, adding that there is no need for a second booster dose, or fourth dose, in India yet.
By April 5, 2022, only nine European countries had recommended a second booster shot for vulnerable populations, according to a Lancet report.
Delhi-based doctor Shahnawaz Kaloo said that the Covid-19 infections caused among the majority of the population during the third wave early this year have given people protection against the virus. "Majority of the population was infected during the Omicron wave. That also acts as a booster," he said.
However, experts suggest that vulnerable people, such as people with comorbidities, should take a booster shot. Virologist Shahid Jameel told BOOM that people with health conditions like heart, lung and kidney ailments, diabetes, and people with low immunity such as cancer survivors on therapy should take the third dose or the first booster dose of vaccine since the probability of severe disease following infection is higher among these groups.
Jameel said that data shows the fourth dose gives some additional protection against the disease, but it is not necessary.
Are nasal vaccines going to help?
The Centre on December 23 also approved the nasal vaccine iNCOVACC as a heterologous booster dose. This means those who have taken Covishield or Covaxin as their first two doses can also take this as their third dose.
"Someone who has taken Covaxin or Covishield can take the nasal vaccine as a booster dose," Kang said. Doctors believe that since nasal vaccines can be administered by a less skilled medical team, this is likely to help the uptake of booster doses in India.
With discussions going on around fourth vaccine doses, NK Arora, the chief of the Covid Working Group of the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation, said that the nasal vaccines should not be used as the fourth shot.
"Nasal vaccine is recommended as the first booster. For example, if a person has already received a precaution dose, it is not recommended for that person. It is for those who have not yet taken a precaution dose," Arora said in an interview with NDTV.
Will China's surge have an impact on India?
The Covid surge in China has renewed fears of another wave across the world. However, experts believe the impact won't be as drastic in India since 90% of the population in India has received the primary doses of the vaccine.
"The widespread infection in India during the Delta wave in 2021 and the Omicron wave earlier this year coupled with vaccination has given people in India a hybrid immunity," Jameel said.
"We should stay cautious and vigilant but not worry about the outbreak in China," he said adding that India is better prepared than it was during the second wave in April-June 2021 when the rate of vaccination was also low.
Kang also said that the situation in China is unlikely to have a major impact on India unless the wave in China results in a new variant that causes severe disease even in those who are vaccinated.