Sunday, January 29, 2023

Future Covid waves unlikely to have serious impact

Amid a resurgence of Covid-19 cases in Southeast Asia and parts of Europe, experts in India feel that given the high vaccination coverage and immunity due to natural infection, any future waves are unlikely to have a major impact in the country. Some of them even said that the government should consider relaxing the mask mandate as the daily cases and deaths have remained low for a while.
Dr Sanjay Rai, a senior epidemiologist at AIIMS and the principal investigator of Covaxin trials for both adults and children at the institute, said that SARS-CoV-2 is an RNA virus and mutations are bound to occur. Already over 1,000 mutations have occurred, although there are only five variants of concern.
“India experienced a very devastating second wave last year, which was very unfortunate, but currently this is our main strength as natural infection provides better and longer duration of protection. Also, there is high vaccination coverage. Hence, severe impact of any future wave is unlikely,” Rai, professor at the Centre for Community Medicine at AIIMS, said.
He said the Centre should continue with surveillance, including genomic sequencing, to monitor emergence of any future variant.
According to Dr Chandrakant Lahariya, an epidemiologist and public health specialist, the possibility of a fresh surge in India 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. For India, the possibility of a fresh surge for many months and even with a new variant is low,” he said. “Because of the hybrid immunity after three waves of natural infection and a large proportion of adults receiving both doses of vaccine, the susceptible pool has come down drastically,” Lahariya said.
Lahariya further said the time is right to do away with the mask mandate for the majority of the population.
Dr N K Arora, chairman of the COVID-19 working group of National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI), said that most of these outbreaks are due to Omicron and its sublineages.
Arora said data from other countries shows that the risk of severe disease and death is primarily for those who are either unvaccinated or partially immunised.
Last week, the Union health ministry had asked all states and union territories to submit adequate samples to the INSACOG network for timely detection of new COVID-19 variants.
It also asked them to restart monitoring influenza-like illnesses and severe acute respiratory infections so that no early warning signals are missed.
Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya had chaired a high-level meeting on March 16 during which states were advised to focus on aggressive genome sequencing, intensified surveillance and overall vigil on the COVID-19 situation.

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