State seeks COVID-19 TAC’s recommendations on vaccination guidelines

A file photo of a BBMP health worker administering a vaccine against COVID-19 in Bengaluru.

Following Chief Minister Siddaramaiah’s recent announcement that the State will take up a vaccination drive, if necessary, to immunise the unvaccinated population, the Health Department has now sought the COVID-19 Technical Advisory Committee’s (TAC) recommendations on guidelines for the drive.

Meeting on Sunday

Sources in the TAC said the committee will meet on Sunday to discuss and deliberate on the vaccination front, among other issues. Following this, the newly formed Cabinet sub-committee is set to hold its first meeting on December 26.

The State’s current precaution dose coverage in the above 18 years age group is abysmally low at 23%. The Centre had rolled out precaution dose administration for senior citizens across the country on January 10 last year and for those in the 18-59 age group on April 10. Those who had completed nine months after their second dose were eligible for the precaution dose. 

After the third wave in March-April last year, COVID-19 was on a decline. Although there was a small spike in September-October, there was reluctance towards getting the precautionary dose as people developed complacency. Till June-July last year, some were still not eligible for the third dose as they had not completed nine months after the second dose.

Now, after a gap of over a year and amid concerns of a possible JN.1 surge, if people want to take the precautionary dose, will that be the third dose, or will it be the first dose and the beginning of another vaccination circle? Besides, there is still no clarity on whether the existing vaccines — Covishield, Covaxin and Corbevax — that are supplied through the Centre, can provide protection against the new JN.1 strain.

State Health Commissioner Randeep D. told The Hindu that the TAC had been asked to deliberate on these issues and recommend guidelines on the vaccination drive.“ Naveen Bhat, State Mission Director, National Health Mission (NHM), said the State would soon write to the Centre seeking a supply of 25,000 doses of Corbevax. “There are no stocks of Covishield and Covaxin even with the Centre. That is why we will place a request for 25,000 doses of Corbevax and are hoping to get the supply in a week,” he said.

Third dose will still be a booster

Virologist V. Ravi, former TAC member and nodal officer for genomic confirmation of SARS-CoV-2 in Karnataka, said the third dose taken even now will still be a booster (precaution) dose.

“The fundamental properties of the human immune system are memory and specificity. Once you expose the immune system to a particular antigen, it will retain memory for a very long time. So when you give a booster shot, memory kicks in and then expands to all the cells that are required to make antibodies and cell-mediated immunity to neutralise the virus irrespective of the vaccine they have received,” he explained.

Pointing out that there are enough studies to show that heterologous boosters can still induce protective immunity, Dr. Ravi said the existing vaccines will provide protection against new strains too.

“The purpose of the COVID-19 vaccine is to prevent serious disease and death and not infection. So, all COVID-19 vaccines are designed to neutralise the virus as far as serious disease and death are concerned. Those who are not vaccinated can still get jabbed,” he added.

JN.1 burden

Amid concerns of a possible JN.1 surge, the State’s COVID-19 Technical Advisory Committee has been asked to deliberate on the need to seek help from experts at IISc and the Indian Statistical Institute to estimate the burden of the COVID-19 in the State in January-February.

“The estimation that is usually done using mathematical modelling can be based on the emerging global trajectory of JN.1 cases as there is not enough local data as of now. The TAC will deliberate if this is required at this point,” sources said.

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