India to give COVID booster shots to health workers, elders: Modi

The Indian leader says healthcare and front-line workers and those above 60 with comorbidities to receive booster vaccine from January 10.

People shop at a crowded market on Thursday before Christmas, in capital New Delhi [Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters]

India will start administering COVID-19 booster shots as a precautionary measure to healthcare and other front-line workers from January 10, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said, as cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant rise across the country.

In a TV address to the nation on Saturday night, Modi also said those above 60 years of age with comorbidities would be offered booster shots after a recommendation from doctors.

He added that those aged 15-18 would start receiving COVID-19 vaccinations from January 3.

“From the point of view of precaution, the government has decided that healthcare and front-line workers should start getting a precaution dose,” Modi said.

A security guard stands outside a ward being prepared for the Omicron coronavirus variant at a hospital in Ahmedabad city in Modi’s home state of Gujarat [Ajit Solanki/AP Photo]

Modi said 1.8 million isolation beds, 500,000 oxygen-supported beds and 400,000 oxygen tanks were available in the country, among other hospital-related resources, as fears of another pandemic wave triggered by the Omicron variant grew.

India has reported a swift rise in Omicron cases, with the number reaching 415 overall across 17 Indian states.

The Indian leader warned that the pandemic was not over and it was necessary to take precautions, including wearing face masks and washing hands, and follow COVID-19 protocols.

Modi’s government has administered at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose to 88 percent of the eligible 944 million population, while 61 percent have taken both doses.

As millions still await second shots, the authorities will now start offering booster shots to healthcare and front-line workers, who suffered from an overwhelming second wave of the virus in the summer that killed tens of thousands.

Medical experts have said India needs to double down on its vaccination campaign and expand coverage to avert another possible surge in new infections, particularly in the vast hinterlands where healthcare facilities are sparse.

The federal government has urged states to impose curbs on overcrowding in the festive season until the new year and a few states have partially banned public celebrations.

The number of daily COVID-19 cases in the nation of 1.3 billion people has fallen by almost half from a month ago. In the past 24 hours, India reported 7,189 new infections, with an overall tally of 34.78 million, the second-highest globally behind only the United States.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies