Complacency responsible for low uptake of precaution dose of COVID vaccines: Experts

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Public complacency owing to the waning of the pandemic coupled with the nine month gap between the second and the precaution dose are major reasons for the low uptake of booster shots of COVID-19 vaccines in the 18-59 age group, experts said on Thursday.

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AIIMS Chief Dr Randeep Guleria said unlike in the past, people have less fear of the disease now and due to declining COVID-19 cases they have become complacent.

He, however, cautioned available scientific data suggest that immunity wanes with time and especially those with comorbidities in any age group are vulnerable to more severe disease.

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“But COVID has not gone anywhere and new variants may emerge anytime. Also, we know that with time our immunity wanes and those with comorbidities in any age group especially are vulnerable to develop a more severe disease.”

“Therefore, people who are eligible for the precaution dose should take it as it will maintain a good level of protection against any new variant that may emerge,” Guleria told PTI.

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Around 16,352 precautionary doses were administered in the 18-59 age group on Wednesday in private centres across the country.

A total 62,683 precaution doses have been given to people in this age group so far.

Dr Neeraj Nischal, Additional Professor in the Department of Medicine at AIIMS, said the Covid threat will persist for some more time and citizens should take full advantage of the robust vaccination programme that is in place.

“Because of the wide and highly paced vaccination drive, the Omicron wave did not trouble us as the previous two waves did,” he said, underlining it’s important that whoever is eligible for the precaution dose, especially the elderly and those having comorbidities should not be lax and take the shot.

Also, one should not forget that removing fines on those not following Covid appropriate behaviour like masking does not mean it is not important.

Everybody should voluntarily follow Covid appropriate behaviour as a responsibility towards the society, he said.

“I would like to reiterate the phrase ’No one is safe until we are all safe’, which means if the pandemic is raging in any part of the world, no country can be 100 per cent safe due to possibility of new variants coming up. So, we can not afford to lower our guard at any cost,” Nischal told PTI.

Dr Pragya Yadav, a senior scientist at the National Institute of Virology (NIV), Pune told PTI that studies by ICMR and other international research institutions have shown antibody level wanes after a certain a period following the primary vaccination with two doses, and therefore a precaution dose would help maintain elevated immune response and give protection against any emerging variants.

“So people, as a responsibility to maintain the normalcy in the situation, should come forward and take the third shot and also follow mask and hand hygiene till we are out of pandemic,” she noted.

Some experts said the nine month gap is also responsible for fewer people turning up for the precaution dose.

“The gap between the second and the precaution dose should have been around six months. The precaution dose is important as the antibody levels start reducing after a period of four-five months, and it is at the minimum after nine months of either last dose or natural infection.

“So we do not especially have to wait for antibody levels to reduce to minimum, and precaution dose could have possibly been given little earlier than that,” Dr Ravi Shekhar Jha, additional director of Pulmonology at the Fortis NSE -2.01 % Hospital said.

He also pointed out the lack of general awareness in both rural and urban areas about precaution doses which is one of the reasons for the low uptake.

According to Apollo Hospitals authorities, they have been receiving many enquiries on the eligibility for the precaution dose.

“With 7.03 crore second doses having been administered as of 9th July 2021, it is these individuals who are now eligible and need to be addressed as a priority for the precaution doses,” Dr Sangita Reddy, joint managing director Apollo Hospitals group said.

A booster shot as a precautionary dose helps increase protection against COVID-19 when protection from the initial vaccine dose wanes over a period of time. The booster dose adds a layer of protection for those who are fully vaccinated, and is especially beneficial for those who have a compromised immune system and existing comorbidities, Reddy said.

The success of the COVID-19 vaccination programme played a major role in enabling India to overcome the pandemic impact, she said.

“Taking the precaution dose will help ensure that the recovery of our lives and the economy that has begun will continue unhampered with our immune systems ready for any new challenge from the novel coronavirus,” she said.

India rolled out precaution dose of COVID-19 vaccines for all people aged above 18 years at private centres on Sunday. Those who have completed nine months after the second shot are eligible for it.

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