In India the first dose of the Covid vaccine – rolled out from January 16 last year amid concerns over delays in vaccination – was “essentially a booster”, Dr Jayaprakash Muliyil of the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR), the government’s nodal body in this health crisis, told NDTV on Tuesday.
Dr Muliyil argued that natural immunity – acquired as the body develops antibodies to fight off the initial infection – could be lifelong in the case of Indians, and that “most (people) had been infected anyway”, since India’s vaccination drive had begun later than other countries.
”… in India more than 85 per cent got infected before the vaccine arrived. So, the first dose of vaccine most people received… whether they knew they were infected or not… that was a booster dose. Primary exposure was to the virus, right? That is the majority of Indians. Right? So, in India, a booster dose was already delivered… the first dose of the vaccine,” he told NDTV.
Dr Muliyil, an epidemiologist, also said he was unsure about the need for booster doses at all.
‘Well, there is a philosophy world over that natural infection doesn’t impart any lasting immunity. Now, that is a philosophy which I think is wrong,” he said.
The doctor also said boosters – offered starting Monday to frontline workers and people over 60 with comorbidities – would make little or no difference in protecting against the Omicron strain.
”It makes no difference. The infection will occur. It has occurred all over the world regardless of this (booster doses),” he told NDTV, pointing to skyrocketing caseloads in countries like the United Kingdom and the United States, which were swift to boost offer boosters when faced with Omicron.
”… it is highly infectious and most of us will somehow get it… because it is a virus that spreads so fast, incredibly fast. We saw the Wuhan virus (the original coronavirus strain) we saw the Delta… and the rate at which it (the Omicron variant) is spreading… this is unbelievable,” he said.
When asked why foreign governments, including those in western Europe and Australia, were rushing to provide booster doses, Dr Muliyil said: “‘You’re asking the wrong person. I didn’t order it.”
Boosters were announced last month by Prime Minister Narendra Modi – after sustained pressure from medical experts, doctors and worried citizens – who called them “precautionary doses”.
The Omicron strain – first reported in South Africa in November – is widely seen as driving the third wave of infections in India, and around the world. A variant with over 50 mutations, experts believe it is both significantly more transmissible than the Delta and more resistant to existing vaccines.
This morning the Health Ministry said over 400 new cases had been reported in the past 24 hours, taking the total confirmed count to nearly 5,000.
However, Dr Muliyil, said the real number of people infected by Omicron (including those who were asymptomatic) was “probably 60” times more than the reported number.