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Kang red flags periodic boosters; 'can't blindly follow richer nations'

Darpan News Desk IANS, 02 May, 2023 02:04 PM
  • Kang red flags periodic boosters; 'can't blindly follow richer nations'

As some countries aim to roll out spring boosters to tame fresh Covid-19 infections, top virologist Gagandeep Kang has said that there is no need for periodic boosters and the focus of the government should now be to tackle other diseases.

Lauding India's efforts in vaccinating people against Covid-19 disease, Kang told IANS that it's time to shift focus to other diseases which need immediate attention.

Covid is witnessing resurgence in many countries, including India. According to the World Health Organisation's (WHO) latest weekly epidemiological update, 74 countries have reported increases in new cases of 20 per cent or greater during the last 28 days compared to the previous 28-day period.

The UK and New Zealand, last week, rolled out another booster dose, while Canada and the US are planning to introduce the shots soon.

"We cannot blindly borrow recommendations from richer countries, because their age structures are different, and unlike us, they do not have as many infectious diseases that are public health priorities," said Kang, who is Professor, Division of Gastrointestinal Sciences, Christian Medical College, Vellore.

"We have done a great job with vaccinating India for SARS-CoV2, we should now be considering what the other diseases and subpopulations are where we can protect our people.

"For example, in India, TB, dengue, and typhoid are much bigger problems even today in the middle of a small Covid wave. Influenza vaccines are available and not used widely. HPV(human papillomavirus) and typhoid vaccines have been recommended by the NTAGI (National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation) and not yet introduced in the programme," Kang told IANS.

Last week, the WHO also updated its Covid vaccination recommendations, saying healthy children and adolescents may not necessarily need a vaccine, while the elderly and at-risk groups should receive an additional booster dose six to 12 months after their last dose.

"I don't think we know for sure what the exact timing of boosters should be, but it is clear that boosters give only a very small benefit to people who are generally healthy, have been vaccinated and infected. For the elderly, boosters may be a good idea, but which vaccine to boost with and at what interval remains an open question," Kang noted.

"I think we should think about other vaccinations as a greater priority for everyone, except perhaps the elderly.

"SARS-CoV2 boosters for the elderly and those with comorbidities may be one among the many approaches we need to take for all the infectious diseases we have in India," she suggested.

Asked whether the rising infection numbers are indicative toward another wave of Covid, Kang said this is "expected" and is "low and slow wave".

"Yes, we are (seeing a new Covid wave), but it is a low, slow wave instead of a sharp, high wave.

"This is to be expected for a virus where the population has considerable experience of infection and has been vaccinated," the virologist said.

The WHO has attributed the current rising cases to XBB.1.16, a sub-variant of Omicron, which, according to it, is the "one to watch".

The global health body has also stated that there are about 800 sequences of Omicron variant XBB.1.16 from 22 countries, of which most are from India. It added that in India XBB.1.16 has replaced the other variants that are in circulation.

"Yes, it (XBB.1.16) is a variant to watch, because it is a variant capable of infecting the already infected and is therefore more transmissible," Kang said.

"It does not appear to be more severe than other Omicron sublineages. If we get a more severe variant, it will be a new one evolving from what we have today, but the likelihood of that appears low at this time," she noted.

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