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No real need for booster vaccination, say experts as JN.1 spreads in India

IANS Dec 28, 2023

There is no real need for booster vaccination, said experts even as JN.1, from the lineage of the Omicron variant of COVID, is rapidly spreading in the country.

First detected in Luxembourg in August, JN.1 is currently present in about 41 countries, including India. Due to its rapid spread, it is currently classified as a variant of interest (VOI) by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

India reportedly has a total of 109 JN.1 variant cases, till December 26, majorly from Gujarat, Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra, Kerala, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, and Telangana.

Dr. Pramod V. Satya, Consultant - Internal Medicine, Manipal Hospital Millers Road, told IANS that the current vaccines may not totally prevent the JN.1 virus infection, but since the viral infection is very less severe, "I think we can get away without booster vaccines. Also because, the JN.1 is only a sub-variant of the Omicron variants, the vaccination that we had taken two years back had protected against severe Omicron variants."

"There is no renewed risk of this new JN.1 variant causing severe illness. Since the disease is causing illness like any other common upper respiratory infection. I don't think there should be a panic or there's a real need for booster vaccination as of now," Dr Satya said.

Despite the surge in COVID cases as well as an increase in JN.1 infections, the Health Ministry has also ruled out the need for any additional booster or precautionary doses to be administered to the general public.

According to data released by the Health Ministry on Wednesday, a total of 220.67 crore COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered across the country as of December 21 this year. However, only 22.88 crore precautionary or booster doses have been administered across the country among the eligible adult population.

Over 97 per cent of eligible citizens have received the first dose of the vaccine, while over 90 per cent received a second dose, the data showed.

"The JN.1 strain of COVID is spreading rapidly. But this is not to be worried about. COVID vaccination has given immunity against COVID-19 and most likely it is going to help fight the JN.1 strain of COVID-19, as well. No need to have an additional booster dose for JN.1, per se," Dr Ravindra Gupta, Head of Department (Internal Medicine), C K Birla Hospital told IANS, noting there is no need to panic.

"JN.1 has a few mutations compared to the Delta and other COVID variants. But JN.1 has an additional mutation in a spike protein which can evade the normal immune responses and so it transmits very fast," Dr. Satya said.

"This means the infection number will be higher, but it will be very, very mild, even milder than the routine flu. However, no current data shows that it has new or severe symptoms or the public needs to panic about," he added.

India also recorded 529 fresh COVID-19 cases in a single day, while the active infection count stood at 4,093, the Health Ministry said on Dec 27.

Three new fatalities - two from Karnataka and one from Gujarat - were reported in a span of 24 hours, according to the ministry's data updated at 8 a.m. The ministry has issued a recent alert to states asking them to step up testing and surveillance in preparation for any further surge in cases.

"Infants, toddlers and elderly above 60, as also those who have diabetes, chronic kidney disease and chronic lung disease must take extra care by using masks in public places and improve immunity by adequate nutrition and control of diabetes," Dr Gupta said.

He also recommended the use of sanitisers, and masks to help prevent the exposure of disease.

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