India opts not to mix-and-match for third COVID-19 dose: All you need to know about the Centre’s decision

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On Wednesday, the government announced that India would be choosing a ‘homologous third dose’, meaning those who received two doses of Covishield will get the same vaccine this time, and those who got Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin will get a third jab of that vaccine

A health staff administers vaccine for COVID-19 in Kolkata. AP

Ahead of 10 January when India will begin administering ‘precautionary’ COVID-19 jabs to those above the age of 60 and frontline workers, the Centre on Wednesday announced that there would be no mix-and-match of COVID-19 vaccines.

According to reports, nearly six crore Indians, including 2.75 crore seniors citizens, will be eligible for the third COVID-19 jab from 10 January.

What did the Centre say?

Dr VK Paul, the head of India’s COVID-19 task force, speaking on the third COVID-19 dose, said, “It will be a homologous third or precautionary dose. Those who have received Covaxin will receive Covaxin and those who have earlier received primary two doses of Covishield will receive Covishield.”

Paul said a decision on mix-and-match of different COVID vaccines – the heterologous route – would be taken when more data would be available.

Why not the other route?

The Centre said that they would review their policy as and when the government got more information and data on other vaccines.

“We will take a call later as more data will gradually emerge on the so-called heterologous approach. For now, however, it will be the same third vaccine dose,” added Paul.

While many other countries have opted for the mix-and-match option, India’s choice of going with the same vaccine for the third jab is in line with what World Health Organization experts have suggested.

In December, a WHO panel had said that it was best to give people two doses of the same COVID-19 vaccine, but mixing and matching is a good solution for countries facing supply constraints.

“We still believe the best approach is to use the same vaccine for the two primary doses,” Alejandro Cravioto, chairman of the panel, was quoted as saying by Bloomberg.

If we go by this statement, India already has a huge stockpile of Covishield and Covaxin for the Indian population.

Moreover, WHO’s Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan in an interview to CNBC-TV18 also echoed similar sentiments.

She was quoted as saying, “Whether you take another shot of the same vaccine as booster or administer a different one, you get a good boost. What WHO said is that what vaccine you pick as the booster dose really depends on different things such as what you have used in that country, what supplies are available, what acceptable to the public, what the costs are, etc. Whatever it is, boosters give good strengthening of the immune response as the memory cells get activated. In fact, some studies have shown that it may be preferable to use a different vaccine as a booster. Given the available data, I think countries can formulate their own policy based on their immune responses and the other factors such as cold storage, affordability. But, I think India is in a good position regarding number of vaccines available at hand.”

A Hindustan Times report said that experts backed the decision to wait for scientific doses on mixing vaccines.

“In the absence of any data, no decision can be said to be inappropriate,” said Gagandeep Kang, vaccine expert, and senior faculty, Christian Medical College, Vellore.

“That is actually the right approach; policies can be modified as data evolve,” she added.

Need for third dose

Calls for the third dose has come at a time when the virus is spreading at a rapic pace after the emergence of the Omicron variant, which is widely believed to be both more infectious and more resilient to existing vaccines.

The country reported 90,928 fresh COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours, 56 percent higher than Tuesday’s 58,097 cases.

The weekly positivity rate has risen to 3.47 percent while the daily positivity rate is 6.43 percent. Data has revealed that the average daily rise of coronavirus this time is almost 21 percent faster than during the second wave in March-April.

Many countries are administering booster doses. These include Germany, Austria, Canada and France. However, most of the European nations are choosing the mix-and-match method.

With inputs from agencies

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