“If you need a booster, get it now.”
Such is the remark of Dr John Moore about the current rapidly evolving COVID situation around the world, and getting the second booster dose (first in the case of India).
Dr. Moor’s comments come against a backdrop of cresting new COVID-19 cases around the world, widely believed to be driven by the more virulent Omicron strain of COVID-19.
Most COVID-19 vaccines are targeted at the original Wuhan strain that kickstarted the pandemic in late 2019. However, recent studies are showing that the same vaccines may not provide lasting or strong-enough immunity against the new variants, that are rapidly evolving to evade the vaccines’ efficacy. However, the vaccines do protect people from having the severe effects of the disease, including hospitalisation and death.
Five health experts speaking to Reuters news agency now say that high-risk individuals or people with co-morbidities must not delay getting their booster doses awaiting omicron-targeted jobs.
Similar sentiments have already been echoed by experts in India, which has currently authorised a third booster dose for its massive population.
“The booster needs to be prioritised for those who are vulnerable and the elderly. The other segments don’t need a booster as much, ” Dr Anurag Agarwal, former director of IGIB (Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology) and a member of the WHO’s Technical Advisory Group on Sars-CoV-2 Virus Evolution was quoted as saying earlier this month.
Given the quickly changing scene of the pandemic worldwide, experts say that the best protection against high-risk individuals is the one at hand.
The US and countries in Europe are currently withstanding the surge in new COVID-19 cases driven by the BA. 4/5 and BA. 1 respectively. This has prompted health authorities in these nations to fast-track developing updated jabs to target the new strains of the virus.
WHO’s Technical Advisory Group on Covid-19 Vaccine Composition (TAG-CO-VAC) has affirmed that Omicron, the most recent SARS-CoV-2 variant of concern,’ has to be included in the revised vaccine composition.
Many countries have authorised third, and fourth booster doses of existing vaccines to prevent the waning immunity amongst their populations. Jabs targeting the most recent omicron variants are yet to hit the market.
Nevertheless, since the virus evolves very quickly and predictions cannot accurately determine its evolution, experts are betting on vaccines targeted at BA.4/5 in the United States and BA.1 in Europe to battle the current situations.
Both the US and the EU have signalled that they are fast-tracking the development/manufacturin of new vaccines (even jabs targeted at the BA.1 in the case of Europe) targeted at the sub-varients of Omicron which are to blame for the recent spike in cases.
Vaccine-makers BionNTech and Pfizer have already released affirmative results in small-scale clinical trials of their under-developed Omicron-targeted vaccine strains.
What About India?
India is also witnessing a rising number of COVID-19 cases driven by the Omicron sub-lineages—mainly BA.2 and BA.2.38—and in some parts of the country, BA.4 and BA.5.
However, the nation is still pinning its hopes on the first-gen COVID-19 vaccines aimed at the original Whuan strain as a booster dose with at least one strain-specific vaccine under development.
Pune-based firm Gennova Biopharmaceutical announced earlier this year that they were near-completing phase 3 clinical trials of an indigenous omicron-specific dose.
Official data reveals that a majority of Indians are still living with the second dose that they took over nine months ago. And despite a third booster dose having been made available for many age groups in India, surveys have shown poor public participation and turnaround.
For instance, 92%of Indians who are currently eligible for a booster dose, have not yet taken their third dose, according to data released by the Union Health Ministry. It means that over 500 million eligible Indian adults are due to take a booster (third) dose that will prevent hospitalisations and deaths.
ICMR data showed that vaccine immunity begins to waver after six months, clearly indicating that more and more Indians must volunteer to get their booster doses to prevent hospitalisations and death from COVID-19.