India is expanding its Covid vaccination drive to include everyone 15 or older and making health workers and some older citizens eligible for booster shots, as the country grapples with the prospect of another wave fueled by the Omicron variant.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in an address to the nation late on Saturday, said vaccines would available to those 15 to 18 years of age as of Jan 3. He also said booster doses would be offered as a “precaution” to health workers and those 60 years and above with comorbidities starting on Jan 10.
India has fully vaccinated about 60 percent of its adult population of roughly 900 million people, while about 90 percent have received at least one dose of vaccine. After a sluggish start marred by mismanagement, the country’s vaccination drive picked up pace in recent months. But the government is short of the declared goal of fully vaccinating all adults by the end of the year.
About 90 percent of Indians have been vaccinated with Covishield, a locally manufactured version of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. Initial studies in Britain found that AstraZeneca’s vaccinations showed no ability to stop Omicron infection, while its booster shot did raise antibody levels enough to suggest that it may offer protection against the Omicron variant.
The previous variant, Delta, fueled a deadly second wave in India in the spring that devastated the country, overwhelming the health infrastructure and leaving hundreds of thousands dead. The government’s jumbled response, with political leaders continuing to hold massive election rallies and allow large religious gatherings as the virus spread, only worsened the disaster.
Even as some Indian states have moved to restrict gatherings and impose measures after the detection of Omicron cases, both Mr. Modi and opposition leaders have held crowded rallies in Uttar Pradesh. The country’s largest state with 200 million people, Uttar Pradesh is headed to a crucial election in the spring.
“In many countries of the world, infections are increasing due to the new Omicron variant,” Mr. Modi said during his address to the nation. “I appeal to all not to panic but remain vigilant.”