HYDERABAD: The spread of COVID-19 in the country would remain at low levels if the vaccination coverage is expanded substantially, possibly by inoculating those above 30 years of age and without comorbidities, by end of May, an expert has said.
Though there has been a spike in the number of cases in some states, overall they have remained much on the lower side despite elections being held in some states, G V S Murthy, Director of Indian Institute of Public Health here, set up under the aegis of Public Health Foundation of India, said.
"A sudden spike in cases has not been seen though civic polls were held in Hyderabad and local body elections took place in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh," he said.
The infection is spreading, most probably after those who were leading protected lives got exposed as they moved out of their homes and mingled with others, he said.
Citing the seroprevalence reports recently announced in Hyderabad, he said 54 per cent of the city's population is estimated to have antibodies against COVID-19 (up to 70 per cent in some wards), meaning that many people got infected during the last six months without realising it.
Observing that protection stays on for around five to six months if a person is already infected, Murthy said it is a good sign that spikes are not being witnessed.
If the vaccination drive gathers pace even among those aged above 30 wthout comorbidities, it would help check the spread of the virus, he said.
"If we can push vaccine coverage to a high level by May, based upon volume of vaccines available in the country, the situation in India will remain at low levels,"Murthy told PTI.
After the nationwide vaccination drive covering health professionals and other frontline workers was launched in January, the country had from March 1 started inoculating people aged above 60 and those over 45 with comorbidities,with Prime Minister Narendra Modi taking the first jab that day.
Murthy said that while the pandemic might not come to an end immediately, the situation would be under control as there has been an increase in vaccination coverage.
As per available information,antibodies (in the infected) existed for about seven months and there is a possibility of them getting it again if the antibodies decline, he said.
Since the highest caseload in the country was witnessed during August-September last year, those infected then may face the risk of getting it again by April-May, he opined.
Therefore, those above 30 or 40 years of age can be covered if the vaccination drive is stepped up by about the end of May, he said.
This can be achieved by allowing the private sector a bigger role in promoting vaccination, he said.
The increased vaccine coverage would provide protection to more people and it would also be difficult to infect others, he added.
Murthy said medical management of COVID-19 cases has improved since the beginning of the pandemic with deaths being reduced effectively and that the combination of vaccination and improved medical management would be very beneficial in handling the virus.
However, COVID-19 precautions like wearing masks should be continued till the vaccination drive reaches the next stage and also because the efficacy of vaccines would be around 70- 75 per cent, he said.
"It is still not time to give up protection like masks. Such a situation may not come this year," he added.
The practice of wearing masks would have other benefits like decline in tuberculosis, pneumonia and infections.
"We have to see what is the benefit to society on a bigger scale," Murthy added.