India does not have enough data right now on the need for a third COVID-19 vaccine shot, called a booster shot, to increase protection against the coronavirus but more information is likely to be available by early next year, All India Institute of Medical Science (AIIMS) director Dr Randeep Guleria said on Saturday.
Even as several countries, including the US, UK and Israel, are planning on administering booster shots to fight the coronavirus after different studies showed that a third dose of their vaccines led to higher levels of protective antibodies, Dr Guleria said the data in India does not indicate that boosters are needed at present.
"I don't think we have enough data right now to say that a booster shot is needed. Even for elderly and high-risk groups, we do not have enough data. We really need to have data that gives us an idea of the protection levels the vaccines provide," he said.
He said further research is needed and it will take some more months. "Information is still emerging... it will take some more months. Possibly by beginning of next year, we will have data on what will be the type of booster shots and who needs it," the AIIMS chief said.
India can take a call on booster shot only after data indicates that the vaccine has reached a "waning point", he added.
"Globally, we are seeing that people who have been vaccinated continue to have protection from severe disease and they are not seeing a huge surge in people getting admitted to hospitals... in India too," Dr Guleria said.
His comments come after the US announced this week that all American adults will be able to get a booster shot eight months after their last vaccination, citing data indicating diminishing protection from the vaccines over time. The third shots will be available from September 20 in the US as infections rise from the coronavirus Delta variant.
The UK government is also preparing to offer millions of vulnerable Britons, who have received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, a booster jab from September.
"The UK had a huge surge, but they did not see an increase in hospitalisation, despite the fact no booster shots were given," the AIIMS director claimed.
While the US and the UK have seen a huge rise in daily coronavirus cases in the recent days due to the Delta variant, India has been witnessing a decline after a deadly second wave -- it recorded 34,457 new COVID-19 cases and 375 deaths in the last 24 hours, the health ministry said on Saturday. The positivity rate in India now stands at 2 per cent.
However, Dr Guleria said, India might need a booster shot "at some point in time."
"Will we need it from vaccines available? Should we look at a new vaccine or the same vaccine? Should we mix the vaccines as a booster? This is the information that is still emerging," he said.
The World Health Organization had said earlier this week that current data does not indicate that COVID-19 booster shots are needed, adding that the most vulnerable people worldwide should be fully vaccinated before high-income countries deploy a top-up.
So far, more than 58 crore vaccine doses have been administered across India under the COVID-19 vaccination drive.