All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) Director Randeep Guleria on Saturday said India’s fight against coronavirus faces its latest challenge in the wake of new strains emerging across the country.
The new variant, he told a news channel, can even cause re-infections in people who have developed anti-bodies to the virus.
While terming herd immunity for coronavirus as a “myth” in India, Guleria said at least 80 per cent people need to have antibodies for the whole of the population to be protected.
Two leading experts recently contended that a new coronavirus mutant strain was reportedly detected in Amravati, Yavatmal, and Akola, all in the Vidarbha region in the eastern part of the state.
They are Maharashtra Covid Task Force Member Dr Shashank Joshi and Director of Medical Education & Research Dr T.P. Lahane, both renowned medicos.
Lahane said that new (mutant) strains were seen in samples examined from these three districts but made it clear that more tests are required to check the potential infection hazards of the new coronavirus variant.
Joshi said that while the government is fully seized of it and probing it in detail, said some regions in the state are showing large cluster infections and lower death rate.
Besides Maharashtra, four more states — Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Punjab — have been witnessing a spike in numbers.
“India needs to go back to aggressive measures of testing, contact tracing and isolating infections,” Guleria told NDTV.
While speaking at an event, Guleria said the vaccine is the only weapon available to gain immunity and help reduce mortality rate due to the infectious disease.
The government’s vaccination plan depends on creating herd immunity by immunising a critical mass of people. In the first phase of vaccination, the government plans to immunise 3 crore health workers and frontline workers. After it will be the turn of 27 crore people who are above the age of 50 years or have co-morbidities.
“Vaccinating health care workers and front line workers is probably the easy part as far as Phase 1 is concerned as you know who needs to be vaccinated. The number is not that large.
“Once you start the process to vaccinate 27 crore individuals, in that scenario we must have a robust programme in place where you have the list of people to be vaccinated,” Guleria said.
He further said: “We need to develop a mechanism where public and private sector actually start rolling out the vaccine at a large scale.”
Guleria noted that there is an urgency to roll out the vaccine to a large number of people as there were dosages available due to some level of hesitancy in the healthcare and frontline workers.
“I personally feel we have a window of opportunity available now because our cases are down, but this window can change anytime as we have seen in various parts of the world, specially with new variants coming up from different countries.
“So we should not lose this moment and try to vaccinate a large number of our citizens which will be able to provide some level of protection as far as COVID-19 is concerned,” he said.
When asked if the COVID-19 vaccines in India be effective against the new strain, Dr Guleria said the vaccines will be effective, but their efficacy might be less. For example, people might not be able to avoid getting the disease, but they will have a mild version of it.
Regular surveillance data is the key to knowing if vaccines need to be modified to fight the new variant strains. In the coming months, there could be changes made to the vaccines.
India reported 14,264 new cases in the last 24 hours on Sunday with the overall tally mounted to 1,09,91,651, health officials said on Sunday, indicating increase in the cases for fifth straight day.
The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare said that there were 90 more Covid-19 fatalities, taking the overall toll to 1,56,302.
In the past one month, the country has been recording less than 15,000 new infections daily with the toll not going over the 200-mark.
However, in the past few days the coronavirus cases in various parts of the country suddenly showed a spike.
On Saturday, 13,993 cases were reported, on February 19, the count of new cases was 13,193, on February 18 it was 12,881, on February 17 it was 11,610, on February 16 the number was 9,121 and February 15 had 11,649 cases.
Earlier, the health ministry officials said that the average daily new infections for the last 15 days were oscillating between 9,000 to 12,000 while the deaths were between 78 to 120.
On February 9, India had reported 9,110 new cases, the lowest this year so far. Last year, the lowest 9,633 cases were recorded on June 3.
As per the Ministry’s data, there are 1,45,634 active cases at present after 11,667 patients were discharged in a day. Till now, 1,06,89,715 persons have been discharged so far.
The recovery rate has remained to 97.27 per cent, while the fatality rate is down to 1.42 per cent.
The ministry also informed that 6,70,050 samples were tested on Saturday. The cumulative tests done by Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) so far stands at 21,09,31,530.
Meanwhile, 1,10,85,173 doses of corona vaccine have been administered in the country since the drive began on January 16 after approval for ‘Covishield’ and ‘Covaxin’.