New Delhi: The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has given a green signal to the entire adult population of the country to apply a booster dose that is the third dose, of the COVID-19 vaccine. Director of the Institute of Liver and Biliary Sciences Hospital, Delhi, Dr SK Sarin had a special conversation with NDTV about this.
NDTV: Do we have to take the booster dose every year?
Dr Sarin: For now, a booster dose is advised to be taken for those who took their second dose 9 months ago. For them, if they take a booster now, it is expected that they will have enhanced antibodies for another 9 months or so. However, with the emergence of a new variant, or any other unprecedented changes to the virus, it may be difficult to assume the future. I would say, with the third dose, we will be an advantage for at least about 9 months to 1 year. If you look at the flu shots, people do get a booster dose once a year in October or November against the disease, as it protects them from getting pneumonia. Flu is also a type of Coronavirus and as we all know, we develop a new vaccine for that particular coronavirus every year. So there’s no harm in taking a booster every year if we know that the vaccines are protecting us. But for now, I would advise every adult to get the jab.
NDTV: Why is booster dose important at a time when we have removed mask mandates from several states?
Dr Sarin: This is for your protection. Vaccines are for the protection of you and those around you. If you see around NCR and Haryana, we have observed a slight rise in the fresh cases in last week, and the positivity rate is 1.2 per cent which had come down to about 0.1 per cent, so keeping that in mind, I think it is wise to get the vaccine, precautionary dose and wear a mask for your own and your family’s safety. People are not following any of the COVID protocols now, but I feel if we get another wave, it will be very difficult yet again. So the least we could do on our part is these two things for at least 6 months to a year more. People are hesitant about the third dose, but it is fairly proven from global data that the immunity gained from 2 doses, does come down after 9 months so there is no harm in boosting your antibodies with another jab. I am really happy with this policy decision.
NDTV: If these booster doses are important, they should be free. What’s your take on this aspect?
Dr Sarin: I’m positive that eventually, a policy regarding the free booster dose will come. But for now, most Indians can afford Rs 225 for a booster dose, so I would urge them to come forward and take theirs till then. I would also like to call for those who can afford boosters, to help those around them who can’t afford these.
NDTV: People who got their second dose of vaccine less than 9 months ago, what is your advice for them? Should they be worried?
Dr Sarin: The policy of waiting for 9 months for the booster has been made keeping a lot of aspects in mind including vaccine availability and the science to prove how important boosters are. Those who have not yet completed 9 months of their second dose, should wait and follow other norms like wearing a mask to protect themselves for now, as that itself can provide a high level of protection to them. When the time is right, the period of 9 months may be reduced as well.
NDTV: What is your take on the removal of the mask mandate from various states?
Dr Sarin: Many times, policy decisions are made keeping in mind a large scale, economic scale, and society at large. The government did not say you can remove your masks now, but they said that people without masks will not be fined anymore. These are two different things. The government is still urging people to wear masks and the last two years of the pandemic have already taught us how important it is to listen to science.
NDTV: The country seems to be all open now, be it public transport, offices, or movie halls, among others. How vulnerable are we at present to the virus?
Dr Sarin: There’s definitely a vulnerability since the positivity rate is increasing. And not every person’s sample can be sequenced, we only sequence 5-10 per cent of the samples. If a new variant emerges, there is a chance that about 5-6 out of 10 samples have a reshaped virus now. Unfortunately, if the cases continue to rise in the coming weeks, it will be alarming. If the positivity rate reaches 1.2-1.5 per cent, we need to be cautious and I don’t think to avoid such a situation, it is very difficult to wear a mask.
NDTV: What can we learn from Hong Kong and European countries when it comes to the upcoming waves of COVID-19?
Dr Sarin: I wouldn’t say we are reaching a new wave, but I would say that there is a spike. Countries like Hong Kong, China, where Omicron or Delta was not widely present, have a different variant causing a new wave. But in United Kingdom, where people have been administered 4 doses of the vaccine, there is a conversation of another lockdown due to the virus. In America, death rates have been high and again people have taken about 4 doses of the vaccine. So this virus is continuously evolving, it can fool you and your resistance and immunity, so do not let your guard down. I would say, you should do what you want, but get the booster and wear a mask.
NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via the Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ population, indigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.