Vaccination, Covid-Appropriate Behaviour Can Delay 3rd Wave: AIIMS Chief

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India has logged over 3.13 crore Covid cases since the start of the pandemic.

New Delhi:

A third Covid wave in India can be delayed and it may be less severe than the first two waves if Covid-appropriate behaviour is followed and the pace of vaccination is increased, AIIMS chief Dr Randeep Guleria told NDTV this morning.

A shortage of hospital beds and medical supplies in the country at the peak of second wave had caught global attention. While the daily cases have dropped, a spike in future may be inevitable, Dr Guleria agreed, as he referred to the fourth sero survey released earlier this week. About 40 crore people in the country are still vulnerable, the sero survey showed, highlighting that about 67 per cent of India’s population has developed antibodies.

“Covid-appropriate behaviour and surveillance are two ways to check the spread of virus,” the AIIMS chief said.

“There is no clarity on the timeline of the third wave. We will see as increase in the number of cases in near future. What is, however, important is how we behave. If people follow Covid-appropriate behaviour and as more and more people are vaccinated, the third wave could be delayed. It could also have lesser impact than the second or first wave,” he underlined.

With vaccine hesitancy still an obstacle for India, Dr Guleria today said: “It’s not just about the number of doses available, but also if more and more people are stepping out to get inoculated. Vaccines are believed to prevent deaths and hospitalisations and severe illness. If you get vaccine, you will be protected to an extent. This has been seen in the US and the UK. Despite that, we need to stick to Covid-appropriate behaviour because mutations will keep happening. A lot of experts have also raised alarm over what is happening in the UK because they’ve opened up.”

About 6 per cent of India’s population has got vaccinated, as per the latest figures, after the country launched the world’s largest inoculation programme in January. Can the government achieve its goal of vaccinating all adults by the end of this year? The country should be able to vaccinate 60 per cent of its population by the end of this year, the AIIMS chief said. “More vaccine doses are likely to be rolled out soon and the pace will pick up by next month,” he said.

About two-thirds of Indians – over six – have antibodies, as per the latest sero survey. This is significantly higher than the third sero survey released in December-January, which showed about 20 per cent of the country’s population had developed antibodies against Covid.

Does that mean India can achieve herd immunity soon? “I am a little apprehensive about using the term herd immunity. When you use the term herd immunity, you assume that the virus will not change. If the virus mutates, you may still have a section of population that’s vulnerable and the whole concept can be questioned. Secondly, the sero survey is heterogeneous (different for different regions, depending on population and other factors). Although, the data is encouraging, it doesn’t mean that we should not follow Covid-appropriate behaviour,” he explained.

The mutation of coronavirus and more infectious variants like Delta variant take a country farther from the goal. “Herd immunity will vary as the virus evolves. Delta variant is much more infectious and spreads more rapidly. If you have a virus that spreads more rapidly, then the (herd immunity) threshold has to go up,” Dr Guleria explained today.

Moreover, he underlined how vaccines also prevent long Covid: “There is data emerging that the chances of long Covid in fully vaccinated people are much lower. This is still initial data. Vaccines do protect from severe illness.”

Is a national audit needed to understand the impact of the past waves after reports said that India’s Covid deaths could be 10 times higher than the official figure? “I don’t think the number of deaths are as high. Looking at the average number of deaths in pre-Covid times, and comparing to present figures could give an idea,” Dr Guleria said.

The government has also dismissed the claims

India has recorded about 3.13 crore total cases since the start of the pandemic, and about 4.2 lakh people have died so far. In the last 24 hours, 39,097 fresh cases were reported.