Experts will take call on booster dose: Govt in LS

Experts will take call on booster dose: Govt in LS
© Provided by The Indian Express

WITH SEVERAL states demanding the rollout of booster doses of Covid vaccines for adults and vaccination for children, Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya said in Parliament Friday that the Government will move forward on these two key issues only on the basis of scientific recommendations of its two expert groups on vaccine administration.

These decisions will not be based on financial or political considerations, Mandaviya told the Lok Sabha a day after the Government announced the detection of the first two cases of Omicron, the new Covid variant of concern, in the country.

Also Read |Consider booster dose for those above 40: INSACOG

“The Parliament wants to know when the Government will administer booster doses as well as the timeline for children’s vaccination. There are two options before us: one is a political decision and the second is a scientific decision,” he said.

“The Government spends Rs 2.5 lakh crore to give free foodgrains to the people of this country. We are giving a Rs 1.5 lakh crore subsidy to farmers. The question (of when the Government clears booster doses) is not economical. It is also not a political question,” the Health Minister said.

Explained |Explained: Govt answers questions on Omicron

“Our experts will take a final decision on the question of vaccinating children and giving booster doses (to the adult population). Based on their recommendation, the Government will move forward. This is my clear reply on the floor of Parliament,” Mandaviya said.

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The Government’s apex advisory body on immunisation is the National Technical Advisory Group in India (NTAGI), which makes recommendations on policy and programmes based on technical review of scientific evidence.

The recommendations of NTAGI are placed before the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for Covid (NEGVAC), which is headed by Dr V K Paul. NEGVAC takes the final call on the rollout, prioritisation and logistics related to Covid vaccination.

Mandaviya also targeted the Opposition, accusing them of politicising the Government’s policy on Covid vaccines throughout the pandemic.

“At one point in time, there was political talk that health is a state subject and that permission should be given (by the Centre) to take decisions on vaccination. Some said they can also purchase vaccines on their own. (Prime Minister Narendra) Modiji said you purchase the vaccines then,” he said.

Also read |What is the govt’s strategy to tackle Omicron variant?

“Then the second issue was raised: those who had the ability to pay and get vaccinated, should be allowed to do so, why is the Government not giving permission for the private sector to vaccinate? The Government decided to give 25% to the private sector,” Mandaviya said.

Referring to unutilised doses with the private sector, the Health Minister said that the vaccination drive has predominantly been run by the public sector.

“After we gave (it) to the private sector, another issue was raised: the Government should vaccinate for free. Modiji started the free vaccination drive for everyone. Now, an issue has been raised that the private sector has unutilised vaccine doses. So we said it is not a problem if the private sector is not vaccinating people. Today, 97 per cent of doses have been administered for free by the Government,” he said.

In conclusion, Mandaviya said that India’s scientific community, which he described as the country’s strength, are deliberating on the issue of booster doses.

“Now a question has been raised: we have doses, what will you do about them? There can be no solution for political issues. However, do we have to take a political decision or a scientific decision? When we are talking about a scientific decision, there are two expert groups on vaccines. The WHO’s chief scientist (Soumya Swaminathan) is a woman from India. This is India’s strength. In India, the scientists are regularly meeting and deliberating,” he said.

Mandaviya also provided details of the two patients detected with Omicron in the country, saying that all primary and secondary contacts in one case, of a 66-year-old South African national, have been traced and tested. “All of them have been found to be Covid-negative,” he said.

In the other case, of a 46-year old doctor, Mandaviya said five contacts have tested positive. “The genome sequencing of these persons (five contacts) is still underway,” he said. According to Mandaviya, samples of 18 international passengers, who tested positive, have been sent for genome sequencing.

“According to the information we have received, Omicron has been detected in 29 countries. Approximately 373 cases of this variant have been reported globally… In countries where this variant has been found, we have categorised them as ‘at risk’….from the 58 flights that have arrived from at-risk countries, more than 16,000 passengers have been subjected to RT-PCR tests. Only 18 passengers have tested positive for Covid,” he said.

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