The rollout of booster shots can wait as it is important to first inoculate eligible adults with the first two doses of the Covid-19 vaccine, the Indian Council of Medical Research said on Sunday, The Hindu reported.

Booster shots are jabs given to ramp up decaying antibodies against the coronavirus. Almost 40 countries, mostly the rich and developed ones, are allowing citizens to get inoculated with a third vaccine dose.

Calls for rolling out additional vaccine doses, at least for vulnerable groups, have grown in the light of the emergence of the Omicron variant of Covid-19.

Dr Samiran Panda, the head of epidemiology and communicable diseases at the Indian Council of Medical Research, said that vaccines are not known to prevent Covid-19 but reduce its severity. “Currently the focus is to ensure at least 80% coverage in eligible adult population which is vital,” he added.

Panda added that the Omicron cases in India and other countries were mild, The Times of India reported. “There should not be any knee-jerk reaction like introducing a third dose or recommending any change in the interval of Covishield doses,” he added. The recommended gap between Covishield doses in India is 12 to 16 weeks.

Panda said that it was important for Indians to continue wearing masks and avoid mass gatherings.

“Now with Omicron also in the country, we still don’t know how the virus is going to shape up,” he told The Hindu. He added that its effect on the elderly was not yet known.

At a press briefing on Friday, Dr VK Paul, the chief of India’s Covid-19 task force, had also said that the country must complete the task of vaccinating every adult with two vaccine doses before thinking of booster shots.

Meanwhile, Dr Balram Bhargava, the head of the Indian Council of Medical Research, had said that studies were underway to establish the efficacy of Covishield and Covaxin – the two vaccines being used in India – against the Omicron variant.

India’s genome sequencing body, the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium, had also said on December 4 that more scientific experiments were needed to assess the impact of booster doses of Covid-19 vaccines. However, a week before that it had suggested that booster shots be considered for people above 40 because of the Omicron variant.