New Delhi: Experts in India feel that future Covid-19 waves are unlikely to have a major impact in the country, considering the high vaccination coverage and immunity due to natural infection. Since the daily Covid-19 cases and deaths in India have remained low for a while, some experts said that the government should consider relaxing the mask mandate. Their comments come amid a resurgence of COVID-19 cases in Southeast Asia and parts of Europe.
Dr Sanjay Rai, senior epidemiologist at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), said that SARS-CoV-2 is an RNA virus and that mutations are bound to occur, news agency PTI reported. Rai, who is also the principal investigator of Covid-19 vaccine Covaxin’s trials for both adults and children at AIIMS, said that India experienced a very devastating second wave last year, which was very unfortunate, but currently, it is the country’s main strength as natural infection provides better and longer duration of protection, according to a PTI report.
He also said that there is a high vaccination coverage; hence, severe impact of any future wave is unlikely.
Rai noted that it is also time that the Indian government may consider relaxing the mask mandate, and added that senior citizens and those at a higher risk of contracting the infection should continue wearing masks as a precautionary measure.
The epidemiologist emphasised that the government should continue with the SARS-CoV-2 surveillance to monitor the emergence of any future variant.
Though more than 1,000 mutations of SARS-CoV-2 have occurred, there are only five variants of concern.
On Sunday, India reported 1,761 fresh Covid-19 cases. This is the lowest in around 688 days. The country recorded 127 deaths, and the active cases declined to 26,240, according to data provided by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
Dr Chandrakant Lahariya, an epidemiologist and public health specialist, said that the possibility of a fresh surge in India is low even with a new variant. Quoting Lahariya, the PTI report said that for India, the possibility of a fresh surge for many months and even with a new variant is low.
“If we analyse data on seroprevalence, vaccination coverage and evidence on the spread of Omicron, it is logical to conclude that the Covid-19 epidemic in India is over,” Lahariya said.
The epidemiologist said the reason is that because of the hybrid immunity after three waves of natural infection, and a large proportion of adults receiving both doses of Covid-19 vaccine, the susceptible pool has come down drastically.
Lahariya said that it is known that antibody levels decline over a period of time but hybrid immunity continues to provide protection. He added that at this stage of the pandemic, infections and new Covid-19 cases are not a concern, and that the outcome of those infections should be the criteria to assess the situation.
However, the epidemiologist stressed the need for the government to continue tracking situations in other countries, experts to analyse the situation in India, continue genomic surveillance and citizens to get the recommended vaccine shots. He said that it is also a time that as a society, “we prepare for living with Covid”.
He added that it is also time that the Indian government reviews and revises the face mask-related regulation, and said the time has come that the mask requirement for the majority of the population can be done away with. “It can be done in a graded manner,” Lahariya said.
According to Dr Jugal Kishore, head of Community Medicine at Safdarjung Hospital, measures like wearing masks can be done away with due to high prevalence of seropositivity. This indicates that more than 80 to 90 per cent of the population has been infected by SARS-CoV-2.
Kishore stated that people are unlikely to have severe symptoms if a new wave of coronavirus comes, due to high natural infection.
According to Dr N K Arora, chairman of the Covid-19 working group of National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI), the possibility of India being hit by a severe wave is less likely, considering the high vaccination coverage. Arora, however, said that should not lead to the lowering of guard as there is always the risk of new variants emerging.
He further said that the current understanding is that most of these outbreaks are due to Omicron and its sublineages, and that data from other countries shows that the risk of severe disease and death is primarily for those who are either unvaccinated or partially immunised.
Arora requested all adults who have still not received their second dose and are due for their precaution dose to take it, and also to ensure that children aged 12 to 18 also complete the Covid vaccination as recommended under the national programme.
The Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare last week had asked all states and union territories to ensure an adequate number of samples are submitted to the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG) network for timely detection of new Covid-19 variants, to continue testing according to protocols and not to let the guard down while resuming economic and social activities.
On March 16, Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya had chaired a high-level meeting, during which states were advised to focus on aggressive genome sequencing, intensified surveillance and overall vigil on the Covid-19 situation.
The Covid-19 vaccination of children belonging to the age group of 12 to 14 years started on March 16. Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that it was an important day in India’s efforts to vaccinate the country’s citizens. He took to Twitter to praise India’s vaccination drive, and called it “science-driven”.
Hyderabad-based pharmaceutical company Biological E’s Corbevax is the only Covid-19 vaccine being administered to the 12-to-14 age group. Also, beneficiaries aged more than 60 years are now eligible for the precautionary dose.
The Prime Minister said that now onwards, youngsters in the 12-14 age group are eligible for vaccines, and all those above 60 years of age are eligible for precaution doses. “I urge people in these age groups to get vaccinated,” he wrote.
(With PTI Inputs)
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