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Covid booster shots should have been given earlier, says expert

Noted Mumbai-based chest physician Dr Zarir Udwadia said how the Omicron variant plays out will depend on its increased infectivity versus its reduced severity.

Written by Anuradha Mascarenhas | Pune |
January 9, 2022 5:57:27 pm
covid-19, covid booster shot, booster shot, covid vaccine, Pune, Pune news, Indian express, Indian express news, Pune latest newsSeveral citizens above the age of 60 got a message on Sunday that they were eligible for a ‘precaution’ dose starting Monday. (Representational)

Booster doses offer added protection against the Omicron variant of the Covid virus and the government should have introduced them a while ago, noted Mumbai-based chest physician Dr Zarir Udwadia said Sunday.

Several citizens above the age of 60 got a message on Sunday that they were eligible for a ‘precaution’ dose starting Monday. “This third dose or a booster should have been given a while ago,” Dr Udwadia insisted. It was incumbent on the part of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) to have initiated studies on which of the two vaccines (Covishield/Covaxin) should have been pressed into service as boosters, he said, adding that there is a study underway at CMC, Vellore and results are expected.

However, it is likely that sheer numbers may be overwhelming in this wave, he said, addressing a webinar ‘Omicron Update – Beginning of the End or End of the Beginning’ jointly organised by the Bombay C Ward Medical Association and the Bombay Medical Union along with Sir HN Reliance Foundation Hospital and others.

Omicron is the most infectious respiratory virus the world has seen and it is, fortunately, less virulent; but a viral blizzard is predicted in the next few weeks, he said. With over 1,000 cases of the new variant in Maharashtra itself, a past infection does not protect against a re-infection by the Omicron variant, Dr Udwadia pointed out.

“Vaccines still protect against severe infections, hospitalisation and death and it is fortunate that this variant was picked up early in South Africa. The good news is that cases are on the decline in that region. Also, a South African study shows that people who have recovered from an Omicron infection may be able to fend off later infections from Delta,” the physician added.

How the Omicron variant plays out will depend on the balance between its increased infectivity versus its reduced severity. As millions are infected by the new variant and the world inches closer to an elusive herd immunity, it may be a weak or transient one, the expert opined.

Responding to queries, he said it was not easy to know if this is the last variant of concern. “However, less people infected is equal to less mutants emerging. How we emerge will depend on the extent of vaccination and our adherence to social distancing,” he cautioned.

‘No need to panic over Omicron’

Stressing that Remdesivir continues to remain an effective antiviral, Dr Udwadia said, “Molnupiravir, another antiviral drug, should not be routinely used but reserved for select cases with comorbid conditions.” He urged patients with Omicron not to panic, but discuss the pros and cons of the drug instead. There is no requirement for unnecessary tests, and symptomatic treatment with steam inhalation, gargling and other medication can help. Patients need to be reassured to keep their spirits up and a holistic approach is required, he underlined.

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