Advisory group on immunization likely to discuss booster dose in upcoming meeting

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The top government expert panel on immunisation is likely to take up key issues regarding administering booster Coronavirus disease (Covid-19) vaccine doses, and opening vaccination for children, in its next meeting scheduled towards the end of this month, said people familiar with the matter.

The Covid-19 working group of the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunization (NTAGI) is likely to meet in the last week of November.

“The experts on the panel have been discussing these issues in past meetings but the decision is ultimately taken based on the quality of evidence, including real-world data, and consensus among the members within the group,” said a senior person in the know of things, on condition of anonymity.

As for offering booster doses as evidence currently suggests that vaccine-derived immunity is not for life, the government experts are also likely to announce a detailed policy on administering additional doses soon. However, the government priority remains to vaccinate all adults first.

Even the Union health minister mentioned on past several occasions that the decision to vaccinate children will not be taken in a hurry, and before booster doses, the government’s focus was to ensure all adults were vaccinated against Covid-19.

“The experts have to be fully convinced on the issue as it is a matter of children. We will have to be extremely careful as even the developed countries that have begun vaccinating their children are treading cautiously. The decision of the experts will be final on this,” said Mansukh Mandaviya, Union health minister, during one of the recent media interactions.

“Vaccinating all adults is on government’s priority list; booster doses come later,” he added.

Only one Covid-19 vaccine, Zydus Healthcare’s ZyCoV-D, that was tested in children aged 12 years and above has been approved for emergency use in India. The drugs controller general of India is still reviewing the emergency use authorization of Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin that has been tested in children aged 2 years and above, even though the expert committee recommended it for use in children.

According to people familiar with the development, even if a consensus is reached on starting vaccination in children among panel members, it is highly likely that the exercise will be conducted in a phased manner wherein the first phase will include children with comorbidities.

Government experts are at present working on a list of comorbidities that could determine which children are eligible for a vaccine first. The list is likely to have those on cancer treatment; transplant cases; those with compromised immunity, etc.

Experts, however, have been saying that there may not be an immediate need but eventually all children will have to be vaccinated.

“Eventually, we will have to vaccinate all children and not just those at risk because children can bring the infection home and expose those members who are at high risk, especially the elderly and sick in the family,” said Dr JS Bhasin, director and head, department of paediatrics, BLK Hospital.

A Booster dose is also likely to be introduced in a phased manner, with those at high risk getting the additional vaccine shot first.

“The experts will focus on India’s requirements and local data to draft the plan. Global data is important but India also has managed to generate a significant amount of data that will be relevant in decision making,” said the person cited above.

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