New Delhi: It has been over a month since India started administering ‘precaution doses’ of Covid-19 vaccines — a third dose, known as a booster dose in other countries — to healthcare workers, frontline workers and senior citizens, in line with government guidelines.
The tally of 1,73,29,125 precaution doses administered between 10 January, when the drive began, and Monday included over 80 lakh senior citizens. However, while multiple public appeals to take the dose have come from various levels of his government, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his cabinet colleagues, many of whom are aged above 60 years, have not taken their precaution doses so far, at least publicly.
Modi took the first shot of the indigenous Covaxin on 1 March 2021, and the second dose on 8 April the same year. This means that he completed the nine months’ interval since the second shot, mandated for the precaution dose, on 8 January. Even so, to date, there has been no report of Modi having taken the precaution dose, for which all Indian citizens aged above 60 years are eligible.
While the original announcement by the PM on Christmas was that precaution doses will be administered to senior citizens with comorbidities, the Union health ministry has since clarified that no prescription is needed to be furnished by senior citizens who have completed the nine months’ interval after the second dose.
ThePrint has sought an update from the Union health ministry, the Press Information Bureau (PIB) and the Prime Minister’s Office via email on whether or not PM Modi had taken the precaution dose, how many eligible ministers in the central government had taken it so far, and if at all precaution doses will be opened up for all adults in the country. This report will be updated when a response is received.
Meanwhile, a senior official told ThePrint on the condition of anonymity that “the PM is yet to take his precaution dose”. “He says he is healthy and does not need to take it. I cannot talk about others (whether they have taken the shot),” the official said.
No plans to start ‘third dose for all’
Top sources in the central government have told ThePrint that no decision has so far been taken on whether precaution doses will be given to all adults who have completed nine months since they got the second dose of the vaccine. This, even though vaccine availability is no longer a limiting factor. According to Monday morning’s update from PIB, over 12.25 crore vaccine doses are currently available with states.
Responding to ThePrint’s queries on precaution doses for all adults at last Thursday’s Covid briefing, NITI Aayog member Dr V.K. Paul said these decisions are “first and foremost based on scientific need”.
“Programmatic and epidemiological considerations are also taken into account. Let’s continue to pursue this journey. These decisions are taken keeping all considerations in mind. Just because somebody else is doing it… they have their context, we have our own context. All this is subject to constant scientific scrutiny and decision-making,” he added.
Vaccines for children below 15
Asked about opening up vaccinations for children below the age of 15 years, Paul said the focus is currently on the 15-18 age group, precaution doses for those eligible, and the “unfinished agenda for adults”.
Sources in the health ministry said the priority is wrapping up vaccination of groups that are eligible rather than expanding the net any wider, which may leave gaps in coverage. There is no plan yet to open up vaccine sales in the retail market, they added.
Last Thursday, Joint Secretary in the health ministry Lav Agarwal had reiterated that full market approvals to both Covaxin and Covishield are subject to their use “in programmatic mode” through the CoWIN portal.
(Edited by Gitanjali Das)