India may not change its Covid vaccination plan: Official
Even as some countries are switching to bivalent Covid-19 vaccines which tackle both the original Covid virus and the newer Omicron variant, India is not looking to change its vaccination strategy, people in the know told ET.
“We are doing well with the present strategy and hence there is no need to make changes in the vaccination programme, which is already working well for our population here,” said a senior official on the condition of anonymity.
The UK was the first country to approve a dual vaccination which is targeted on both strains. Vaccine developers have been busy developing a vaccine that targets both strains to offer as part of booster doses.
Earlier this week, the vaccine committee of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended bivalent mRNA booster for people aged 65 years and older. The bivalent booster has now become the only mRNA Covid-19 vaccine available in the US, replacing the original shots that targeted only the SARS-CoV-2 virus and were used to vaccinate people with their primary series of shots.
In India Biological E is conducting clinical trials. According to an earlier report by ET, the Hyderabad-based vaccine-maker had sought the drug regulator’s permission to initiate clinical trials for its bivalent Covid-19 vaccine that it claimed could offer protection against Omicron and its sub-variants, besides the original SARS-CoV-2 variant.
“In western data, they are useful for reducing Omicron infections, with higher effectiveness than ancestral vaccines, but since most Indians have already been infected by Delta and then Omicron, the general public health benefit is small compared to the various costs,” said Anurag Agrawal, former head of the Insacog laboratory consortium and chair of the World Health Organization’s technical advisory group on virus evolution.
He said individual-level decisions can be based on a risk-level and whether they have been able to avoid natural infection.
Virologist Shahid Jameel of the University of Oxford said that there is little data to suggest bivalent vaccines work any better.
“Perhaps a little better in preventing infection. But the way variants are emerging, not for too long. Current vaccines prevent serious disease and mortality very well,” he said, recommending that it’s more important to expand coverage and use boosters for the vulnerable.
A government official added that even if the drug regulator approved the new vaccines, they are unlikely to be introduced in the vaccination programme. “The disease has turned into an endemic state and most people are having a mild one. Hence, there is no need to include new vaccines in the vaccination programme,” he added.
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