Long road ahead
On August 31, India administered 1.33 crore doses of vaccination in just 24 hours, setting a new record. Days previously, India had breached the 1 crore mark for the first time. With supply issues finally easing and India managing to innoculate half its adult population with at least one dose, hopes have been raised that not only could India achieve its own vaccination targets but also go back to being a major exporter of vaccines worldwide. The Serum Institute of India (SII) is now producing around 150 million doses which is more than twice its production rate in April when it was producing 65 million doses a month. Still, the company has no fixed deadline for when it could finally start sending out doses abroad though it hoped to restart in a few months. For its part, the health ministry has clarified beyond doubt that India will not be sending out any doses whatsoever until India has taken care of its own interests and inoculated its citizens. While India's vaccination campaign is picking up pace, there is a new development that could potentially delay India's efforts to fully innoculate its population. Previously, a third dose of vaccination was being discussed as a booster shot that would be given to those with weak immune systems or one that would be given to boost falling immunity levels six months or so after the second dose. In a recent statement, Cyrus Poonawalla even stated that the third dose was 'must' and that he and his employees at SII had all taken a third dose of Covishield. Regardless, the debate over boosters is still undecided with the WHO opposing them but countries like the US recommending them as a must. But now there is a new development in regards to the third dose of vaccination. At a briefing on Tuesday, Dr Anthony Fauci, America's foremost expert in infectious diseases, stated that three doses could soon become the new norm for an individual being considered 'fully vaccinated'. He referred to two studies done in Israel that showed that the third dose would bring a notable decrease in infections. Fauci stated that there was good reason to believe that a third dose "will actually be durable, and if it is durable, then you're going to have very likely a three-dose regimen being the routine regimen." While the ultimate decision for this lies with the US Food and Drug Administration, it should be noted that Israel has already made a third dose a norm for everyone over the age of 12. This third dose must be taken within six months of the second one or the individual stands to lose their green pass privileges. There are both good and bad points to this development. On the one hand, a three-dose regime may indeed provide greater protection against not just serious disease and death but also getting infected, possibly enabling health authorities to bring the pandemic under control. On the other hand, it should be obvious that at a time of extreme disparity in the availability of vaccines, a third dose would only add to the challenge of getting the world inoculated. Rich countries with ample supplies can afford to rush ahead to get a third dose to keep its population safe while other countries struggle to get even a single dose of vaccine into the arms of their citizens. But there is little choice but to push on as the virus is not allowing room for measured actions. Already there are new strains on the horizon with the Mu variant now being designated as a 'variant of interest' as it is thought to have similar capabilities to the Delta variant in dodging both natural and vaccine antibodies. There is also uncertainty over just how long vaccine immunity lasts and when booster doses are to be given. This leaves many countries no choice but to go for third doses if they can to stay on the safer side of things.