Visa Crunch

Students, Travellers Face Challenges Due To ‘Precaution Booster’ Wordplay; Centre Must Clarify Nomenclature Change Experts

The Union health ministry recently announced the ‘precautionary dose’ vaccine drive for all over 18 years of age from April 10 onwards. The third dose will be administered to the eligible population (18+) with the same vaccine that they have been inoculated with before. The government has slashed the price of both vaccines to Rs 225 (plus applicable taxes).

Although we began the booster drive on a sluggish note in India with only 9674 booster jabs taken by the eligible populations, experts are hopeful that the numbers will increase as other private hospitals join the drive.

However, the announcement has given rise to two glaring issues – the pricing of the vaccine which was slashed at the last minute and also the issue of calling it a precautionary dose and not a booster as is the case in other parts of the world.

Some students who are awaiting their visas to study abroad told News9 that they have had to convince their global colleges and authorities that the precautionary dose is just a nomenclature change but it actually means the booster.

“I have been waiting to get this booster jab as my college in Germany requires us to have a booster dose before applying for PG. But when I wrote to my centre head yesterday that I will be taking the precautionary dose this week and will apply for studies in the college, she was clueless about the precautionary dose. There were a lot of emails back and forth where I had to attach media reports on why the government of India would like to call the third dose as a precaution and not a booster. Unfortunately, there is no clear communication on the same by the ministry. It is a struggle for students like me,”

said Ashka Navlavala, a 20-year-old student applying for higher studies at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich.

Booster versus precaution debate; agents say they have to clarify that they are both the same

Adarsh Khandelwal co-founder of Collegify said students haven’t complained of application forms being rejected as of now but most of them have had to clarify to their colleges and authorities that they both mean the same thing.

“It is just a lot of back and forth emails explaining to foreign college authorities that the third dose or a precaution is the same as the booster dose. It does not create a problem in generating a visa but creates a whole lot of confusion for students and agents like us. The other major problem that we are facing is regarding students who were jabbed with Covaxin because some countries do not accept that as the primary dose even,”

he said.

While study abroad counsellors are facing the difficulty of convincing foreign college authorities, travel agents who come up with holiday packages are also struggling with this dual issue of having to clarify time and again about the third dose being a booster and also with the Covaxin problem. Rahul Mahajan from Eklavya Travel agency in New Delhi told News9 that in most of his visa requirements he has had to attach an additional document on the difference between booster and precaution.

“We have no formal communication from the embassies yet but sources tell us that it is better to attach a document on the difference between both precautionary dose and booster so that there is no chance of the visa getting rejected on that ground,”

he said.

Dr Shuchin Bajaj, founder-director of Ujala Cygnus Group of Hospitals, said that the government should provide clarity as there is no precedence of a term like ‘precaution dose’ being used before.

“I personally feel in medical sciences, there is no such term called the precaution dose. There is a primary dose, a booster dose, and even a second booster. But I have never heard of a precaution dose. I want to leave it to the wisdom of those who designed it. I feel that the government should really explain why this is so, instead of giving room to speculation. It needs to be explained why they have chosen this name. This could save a lot of confusion – to people and the scientific community,”

Dr Bajaj added.

But, Dr Rakesh Sharma, an Epidemiologist at Wockhardt Hospital has a different take on this. He said that at present it may be more strategically correct to call these additional doses ‘precaution’ doses as there is no data available on the efficacy of the third dose.

“I think at the moment it is more reasonable and strategically correct to call it a precautionary shot since there is not much data available. A booster shot is something that is more specific, and more studied on. Therefore, it is more accurate to call it precautionary dose.”

“It is a precaution shot for those who are at risk. Since we do not know enough, it cannot be called a booster,”

Dr Sharma added.

According to a report, the first day of the rollout of COVID-19 ‘precaution’ doses for adults saw 9,496 jabs administered on Sunday. The Cowin dashboard showed that approximately 850 private sites had made the third dose of vaccine available to the public.

People over the age of 18 who received the second dose at least nine months ago are eligible for a third dose of the same vaccine in private hospitals. The majority of hospitals intend to begin the booster plan on Monday.

Experts had earlier predicted that the 9-month time gap, coupled with the varying pace of vaccination across the country may lead to a slow precaution dose demand, initially.

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