BENGALURU: The second Covid wave in India is now a fact. This continuous surge across the country has pushed the daily count past one lakh fresh cases. It has been on the rise for the last three weeks and new infections have risen at a faster rate than recoveries. These figures, which are more than one lakh, are the biggest single-day spike in cases since November 11 — 144 days. The death toll has also gone up, according to the Union Health Ministry data.
We are back to the same situation we were in last year. It could be partly because we are not as careful today as we were in 2020. And the virus has camouflaged better. Many newly-infected people do not seem to have the earlier symptoms of fever, sore throat and cough but have come with joint pains, loose motions, loss of appetite and other atypical symptoms. Another difference noticed is that more younger people are getting infected. Also, the present wave is associated with clusters of cases in families.
There are fears of the variants of the virus and doubtful effectiveness of present vaccines against them. As of March 31, the cumulative number of Covid-19 vaccine doses administered in the country had crossed 6.43 crore as per the Union Health Ministry. About three crore constituted the first dose for people above 60 years. India is currently averaging about two million doses a day. At this rate, it will take more than two years to vaccinate 60 per cent of our adults. The only way to win this war is to vaccinate more people and vaccinate at a faster rate. At the same time, we need to enforce safety measures of masking, safe distancing and hand sanitising.
Recent data shows that 10.2 million Indians have been fully immunised, which is 0.7 per cent of our population. We also need to guard the public from the misconception that people are safe after vaccination since infection by SARS-COV 2 is still possible. When scientists develop a vaccine against a novel virus, it’s difficult to predict whether vaccination will completely prevent infection, or sterilizing immunity. Though many studies carried out on Covid vaccines suggest that they can prevent transmission, there are a lot of confounders involved in deciding whether a vaccine has actually led to a drop in the infection rate in a given region.
Historical evidence shows that vaccines that do not prevent virus infection can still stop epidemics. The polio vaccine developed by Dr Jonas Salk, which does not provide sterilising immunity, resulted in the rapid elimination of polio in the United States beginning in the 1950s.There are also reports of people suffering from post-Covid syndrome for months and who have experienced improvement from symptoms after receiving just one dose of the vaccine. How and why this happens has left scientists puzzled. Until then, our best bet seems to be speeding up the process of universal vaccination.
(The authors are president and prof. of medicine,respectively, Ramaiah Memorial Hospital)