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ICMR DG: Booster dose not central in talks… full vaccination still major priority

Dr Balram Bhargava’s statement comes at a time when the country’s first dose vaccination coverage has touched 62 per cent and 20 per cent of the eligible adult population is fully vaccinated.

ICMR director general Dr Balram Bhargava. (File)

With several high-income countries deciding to start administering Covid-19 vaccine boosters, the Union health ministry Thursday underlined that India’s priority will continue to be full vaccination of two doses and that booster dose is not a central theme at the moment in the scientific discussions.

On Thursday, DG ICMR Dr Balram Bhargava, said that while there have been scientific studies showing a decrease in antibody levels after a certain period of administration of two doses, there are other forms of immunity against the infection that could persist. He said increasing the two-dose vaccination coverage in the country will remain the top public health priority.

Bhargava’s statement comes at a time when the country’s first dose vaccination coverage has touched 62 per cent and 20 per cent of the eligible adult population is fully vaccinated. “We have to remember one thing very clearly, that booster dose is not a central theme at the moment in the scientific discussion. Getting a full vaccination of two doses remains a major priority. Several agencies have recommended that antibody levels should not be measured because you can have cellular immunity, antibody immunity, or mucosal immunity that persists…full vaccination of both doses are absolutely essential, and there should be no breakage in that thinking,” Bhargava said.

On Thursday, the health ministry also highlighted that 1,595 PSA plants, that generate medical oxygen, have been commissioned; and that these plants are currently providing 2,088 MT of medical oxygen at hospitals across the country.

Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said that out of the 1,595 PSA plants that have been commissioned in the country, 731 have been set up from Central government resources and are providing 1,024 MT of medical oxygen in hospitals. The remaining 864 PSA plants that have been commissioned using state government and other resources are providing 1,065 MT of medical oxygen, Bhushan said.

“3,631 PSA plants are being set up in the country; when all of them will be commissioned, we will have an availability of 4,571 MT of medical oxygen. From central resources, 1,491 PSA plants are being commissioned, from which we will get 2,281 MT of medical oxygen. From the state and other resources – CSR funds, local urban body funds, and MPLAD funds – 2,140 PSA are being commissioned; once they are complete 2,289 MT of medical oxygen will be available,” Bhushan said.

On Thursday, Dr V K Paul, the head of India’s Covid-19 task force, reiterated that the next two to three months will be crucial for the country due to the upcoming festive season that could trigger a surge in cases.

“In the next 2-3 months we have to be cautious and ensure that there is no upsurge; and if we see an early rise in cases, it should be brought under control. There have been estimations that in the next three months, the country will become more vulnerable; the estimations are that it could be in the month of October or November. That should worry us. It is also the month of festivities. It is also the period when cases of flu increase. We have to be extra careful in the next quarter, in the context of festivities. We have to push our vaccination programme. That is our shield,” Paul said.

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