‘NTAGI has no recommendations on booster dose, kid’s vaccines’

Monika Yadav | | Updated on: Dec 21, 2021

Natural and vaccine immunity more than enough to deal with Covid-19 and its new variants, says Dr Jayaprakash Muliyil

The working group of the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI) has not given any recommendation on booster doses and children’s vaccination to the Centre, as it thinks natural immunity and vaccine immunity are more than enough to deal with Covid and its new variants, India’s top epidemiologist and member of NTAGI, Dr Jayaprakash Muliyil, told BusinessLine in an exclusive interview.

Low mortality rate

Citing the instance of the US and the UK where fully vaccinated individuals are getting reinfected, Muliyil said booster shots will not help. Simultaneously, he said, considering the very low mortality rate or serious illness among children below 12 years of age, it doesn’t make a strong case for immunising children.

“NTAGI has so far taken a stand that there is no reason for booster dose as the natural immunity and two doses of vaccination are more than sufficient. In the West, even vaccinated people are showing infection in large numbers, so booster doses won’t help. But the natural immunity and vaccine immunity will protect against hospitalisation, severe disease and death,” said Muliyil. According to him, natural infection gives much more robust immunity.

“One can get immunity either through natural infection or vaccination. Natural infection gives much more robust immunity, so the reinfection instances are very rare. After vaccination, the breakthrough infections are much more common, which tells that natural infection imparts very good immunity. However, it comes at a cost as we don’t know who will die during the natural infection. In retrospect, those who are alive in India after the infection are strongly immunised with the natural infection,” he said.

He said natural infection, combined with faster pace of vaccination, makes India a safer place than before.

‘We are pretty safe’

“More than 135 crore of vaccine doses have been administered. Indian immunity, as a whole, seems to be very high. There may be some pockets where individuals may not have taken vaccines, that doesn’t matter. But from a country’s point of view, from surges, we are pretty safe,” said Muliyil.

During the second wave, by the time the vaccines arrived, already 70 per cent of the people had got infected and, in many areas, more than 80 per cent had contracted the infection.

According to Muliyil, after the vaccination, single or double doses, people got further immunised, which speaks very well for the overall immunity from the public health dynamics. Muliyil also gave the example of Dharavi, Asia’s largest slum cluster, which had hardly any Covid cases during the second wave, which explains the robustness of immunity attained through natural infection.

“Looking at the US and UK data, the number of people coming RT-PCR positive cases are going up, which indicates that there are much more infections in the community than being reported. Also, hospital admissions are coming down and mortality is coming down,” said Muliyil.

“Now, we should encourage people to get fully vaccinated. Look at the data in terms of the number of Covid cases – they are dwindling because of population immunity. The virus has no place to go. Natural immunity is large in India, except for places in Kerala and some parts of Maharashtra. It suggests that the variant may not do any harm in the context of immunity, either through natural infection or vaccination.

“Everywhere, hospitalisation rates are coming down despite the presence of Omicron. It is possible that India will not get into trouble, but we need to be watchful; there should be enough oxygen supply and beds as the virus moves very fast,” he added.

Published on December 21, 2021
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