Free COVID-19 booster doses for adults at government centers: Centre
India will begin administering free COVID-19 precautionary shots to its adult population above the age of 18 starting Friday (July 15) at government centers, Union Information & Broadcasting Minister Anurag Thakur announced on Wednesday. He stated these free boosters will be given during a 75-day special drive as part of the government's "Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav" initiative to commemorate India's 75th anniversary of independence.
- The Centre's move is significant as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise in India apart from other South Asian countries.
- Although the majority of the COVID-19 restrictions have already been lifted, experts continue to put emphasis on precautionary doses to be administered to the country's entire adult population.
- Some believe the fourth COVID-19 wave would start around July and peak around August-September.
In India, less than 1% of the 77 crore-strong target population in the age group of 18 to 59 years has received the precautionary dose so far, officials told PTI. However, they said about 26% of the estimated 16 crore eligible population aged 60 and above, along with healthcare and frontline personnel, have received the booster shot.
Following a suggestion from the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI), the Centre last week lowered the required gap between the second and precautionary COVID-19 doses from nine to six months for all recipients. Notably, on June 1, the government launched the second phase of the "Har Ghar Dastak 2.0 campaign" across the country to accelerate vaccination rates and promote booters doses.
"A majority of the Indian population got their second dose over nine months ago," an official told PTI on Wednesday. "Studies at ICMR [Indian Council of Medical Research] and other international research institutions have suggested...antibody levels wane around six months after the primary vaccination with both doses...giving a booster increases the immune response," they added, speaking about the government reducing the gap for boosters.
The government data shows that 96% of Indians have so far received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, while 87% have received both doses. To recall, the country began administering COVID-19 vaccine precautionary doses to all adults over the age of 18 on April 10, 2022. The nationwide vaccination campaign was launched on January 16, 2021, with the immunization of healthcare personnel first.