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Administer 5-10 Million COVID Vaccine Doses Per Day, Do Genomic Surveillance For Variants: Expert On COVID In India

To control the coronavirus pandemic in India, Professor Bhramar Mukherjee of the University Of Michigan, has called to increase the coverage of COVID vaccination

Administer 5-10 Million COVID Vaccine Doses Per Day, Do Genomic Surveillance For Variants: Expert On COVID In India
  • COVID-19 surge is not linked to a mutation of the Coronavirus: Government
  • Lockdown a temporary measure; not a solution: Professor Bhramar Mukherjee
  • The vaccination is where we need the ramping up: Professor Mukherjee

New Delhi: On April 1, India recorded its highest single-day spike of this year with over 72,000 fresh COVID-19 cases. In fact, it is the biggest daily surge in COVID cases since October 11 when 74,383 infections were recorded. Dr Randeep Guleria, Director, AIIMS believes ‘that there is a variant which is causing the virus to be more infectious’. However, the government has so far maintained that there is no evidence that the surge is linked to a mutation of the coronavirus. To control the coronavirus pandemic in India, Professor Bhramar Mukherjee, Health Data Scientist, Chair of Biostatistics, at the University Of Michigan, School Of Public Health, has called to increase the coverage of vaccination.

Also Read: India Sees A Rise In COVID Cases, How Should The Country Aim To Tackle It, Experts Speak

Professor Mukherjee has been tracking India’s COVID numbers since the pandemic began and lately, she has been ringing an alarm on the upward curve and increase in positivity rate. Earlier in February, Professor Mukherjee had highlighted an uptick in COVID cases and test positivity rate crossing 2 per cent. Back then, she had called to vaccinate a large number of people so as to suppress the spread of the infection.

In a recent post on social media, Professor Mukherjee highlighted three measures – targeted vaccination in high transmission areas; genomic surveillance for new variants; intensification of containment measures.

In an interview with NDTV, Professor Mukherjee talked about India’s COVID situation and the steps needed in detail.

Also Read: Coronavirus Situation Turning From Bad To Worse, Whole Country At Risk: Centre

Rise In COVID Cases In India And Variants

Talking about the current situation, Professor Mukherjee said,

Our curve has gone back up till last May when we saw the basic reproduction number or the growth rate of the curve like this high and I think the second wave at least in terms of the number of cases looks like in terms of projections worse than the first one in terms of a daily number of cases. Given that there is almost no measures of containment and public have this false sense of security I am very alarmed.

R number or reproduction number of COVID-19 denotes a disease’s capacity to spread. The R number signifies the average number of people that one infected person will pass the virus on to.

Back in early February, when India started recording a rise in the COVID-19 cases, the number of deaths was still low. However, soon, the daily death toll also reported a sharp rise. On April 1, 459 new deaths were attributed to COVID-19, raising concerns. Talking about the same, Professor Mukherjee said,

There are several mysteries in this puzzle that we don’t know, and we should proceed with humility and caution that there is a lot that we don’t know. But the sero-survey really puzzled us that 50 per cent getting infected in Pune and even higher in some sero-surveys reported and that shows that there are possibly lots of reinfections happening and there may be new strains of variant. If you let the number of infections grow like this; even if the infection fatality rate is low or 0.1 per cent, if you let everybody get the disease, you will let the total number of deaths be quite large. I don’t buy this argument that the death rate is low.

Also Read: COVID-19 Outbreak Explained: What Is The “Double Mutant” Variant Of Coronavirus Found In India?

Further talking about the rise in cases of novel coronavirus cases and the role of variants, Professor Mukherjee suggested genome surveillance (a testing process to understand the complete genetics of an organism). She reiterated following COVID precautionary measures and said,

My hypothesis is that immunity from the past infection is waning. Do genomic surveillance and alert the public that this is not to be taken lightly. I see that there is a group of people who took the highest level of precaution in the first wave but now they are going out. The more that you let the infection grow, the more chances for the virus to mutate so this is very concerning.

Are Lockdown And Vaccination Two Main Tools Against The Spread Of COVID-19?

With the rise in COVID-19 cases especially in states like Maharashtra, Punjab, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, and others, governments are mulling over imposing restrictions and lockdown. Sharing her views on lockdown as a measure to combat the growing numbers, Professor Mukherjee said, lockdown is a temporary measure and not a solution to the problem. She added,

I think strategic lockdown in high transmission areas is definitely a good strategy when the virus is getting out of control to keep the curve in check so that the healthcare capacities do not collapse. If you can have enough number of beds to treat COVID-19 patients that should be our benchmark for lockdown. But it is extremely important for people to take their personal precautions and that is where I see the greatest danger. Everybody talked about people in India getting the disease and so we are closer to herd immunity but that was a wrong message to transmit. The vaccination is where we need the ramping up. Local strategic lockdown could be a solution but I don’t envision a national lockdown again.

We need accelerated vaccination in areas of high transmission in this cycle and in the past cycle, said Professor Mukherjee and added, India needs to administer 5-10 million vaccine doses every day. She further explained,

If you think about India’s adult population, it is about 800 million people that we need to vaccinate. I also think that doing a one shot vaccine like the J&J vaccine will be really beneficial for India because there are real issues with vaccine adherence. At the same time, if you open up the market for other vaccines like mRNA and people who can afford it can get it. I really think that a multipronged approach is necessary and as many good vaccines as you can and as many shots in the arms because we have to get to 5-10 million shots everyday if we have some hope of controlling this pandemic in real time.

Also Read: Do You Still Need Both Doses If You Have Already Had The Infection? WHO Expert Answers COVID-19 Vaccination FAQs

NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (WaterSanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollutionwaste managementplastic banmanual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene

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