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Health authorities renewed an urgent plea for people to take covid-19 booster jabs after research published in a prestigious scientific journal showed that the first two doses alone aren’t enough to suppress the Omicron sub-variants that are surging in India.

Research published in the New England Journal of Medicines said that Omicron sub-variants BA.2.12.1, BA.4, and BA.5 substantially escape neutralizing antibodies induced by both vaccination and the infection.

But after two weeks of booster dose the concentration of neutralizing antibody —the titre—“increased substantially", said the study conducted by the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, Massachusetts, a teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School.

This comes in the backdrop of the low utilization of covid-19 booster doses in India, with only 7% of 18-60-year-olds and 40% of over-60s given the jab so far. The paper warned that the Omicron variant has continued to evolve, with increasing neutralization escape.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi too urged all Indians to get their booster shots.

(Prof) Dr Priya Abraham, Director, National Virology Institute (NIV-Pune) said, “Despite several sub-lineages of Omicron being detected in various parts of the word, vaccines are still effective against the virus. Even if it does not prevent infection, it does impact on the severity of infection. We must continue to encourage vaccination and boosters."

“The first thing we need to know is that as the virus evolves, it seeks to gain more of immune escape along with increased infectivity. Whether it is becoming more virulent is a matter of concern and as of now there is no such evidence. Even though vaccines can reduce the risk of severe illness, still we need to track the cases of severe illness.

“So those who are having waning immunity—either because their vaccine doses were complete or they have co-morbidity—should definitely take the boosters," said (Prof) Srinath Reddy, President, Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI).

India has logged over 17,000 fresh covid cases marking a spike of 45% in the last 24 hours. The total tally of active caseload has climbed to over 94,420 the union health ministry said on Monday.

Under the covid vaccination drive, more than 1.97 billion vaccine doses have been administered in India so far, but the number of booster doses stands at only around 44 million.“Now, the question is how much booster one should take? At the moment, it appears that two (primary vaccination doses) plus one (booster) is desirable. Whether it should be three (primary vaccination doses and booster) plus one (fourth dose), there is no clear-cut proof. So, right now advocacy should be two vaccines (primary regime) plus one (booster dose) and all those eligible for it should take it," Prof Reddy said.

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