- Dr Chaand Nagpaul spoke on the global race for a vaccine against COVID-19
- Dr Nagpaul underlines need to suppress COVID infection rate before winters
- If we are not careful, coronavirus can spread without notice: Dr Nagpaul
New Delhi: Almost eight months into the Coronavirus pandemic, the world has reported more than 2.4 crore cases of COVID-19. India alone has reported close to 34 lakh cases of COVID-19 and is the third worst-hit country in terms of COVID-19 numbers. Even as the number of COVID-19 cases across the world rise, there is also significant progress being made on the development of a vaccine against COVID-19. In India, three COVID-19 vaccine candidates (two indigenous and the other being developed by the Oxford University) are in different stages of trials. So as the world waits for a breakthrough to end the pandemic, what are the important things to keep in mind till then and ensure life carries on despite restrictions.
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NDTV spoke to one of the key individuals looking at the overall situation in the United Kingdom (UK), Dr Chaand Nagpaul, Chair of the British Medical Association Council.
NDTV: There has been a great deal of scrutiny of the Oxford vaccine. Where has it progressed so far since the Lancet came out with a document which had a peer review of the Oxford vaccine?
Dr Chaand Nagpaul: We are given encouraging news that vaccine development is progressing well. As you know, not just in Oxford but globally, there are initiatives where there is some initial testing. But the governments in the UK as well as in other nations are being very cautious in not promising any specific time scales and as far as we are aware, we still need to plan on the other side of this year, 2021 before a vaccine will be operational. That is a sort of caution we are being advised.
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NDTV: Phase 3 trials are really important. Both the Wuhan vaccine candidate, and the Oxford and others are progressing in phase 3 trials. How important is that before we find a solution?
Dr Chaand Nagpaul: It is of course important when you consider the vaccination of people to immunise against coronavirus. It needs to work. It needs to be widespread. There needs to be scientific confidence that this will work. Of course, that is important which is why I think the UK government and others are being cautious not to promise anything at this stage. And that means that as we speak now there need to be real efforts made to control the spread of the virus rather than relying on a vaccine which of course will happen sooner rather than later but until such a time our efforts must be to control the spread of the virus.
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NDTV: There is a big concern about the situation in the UK and the possibility of a second spike in winter when several other ailments normally do make an appearance. Is it a worry that COVID could piggy bank on some of these other infections and make the overall situation bad as far as COVID is concerned?
Dr Chaand Nagpaul: There is a real concern in the UK and in other nations where winters are coming up. In winters we see many more illnesses that can mimic the symptoms of COVID-19. Every year we have the winter flu outbreak and that can also be quite widespread and those symptoms will be similar to that of COVID. So, it will be a challenge for the UK. That’s why, I, on the behalf of British Medical Association am putting out to the government that they must now do everything possible to contain, to suppress the virus so that we reduce the infection rates well before we reach winter.
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NDTV: What about drugs like Remdesivir? In your opinion, to what extent are patients having their lives saved by the availability and increase in dosage of these drugs?
Dr Chaand Nagpaul: One intervention which was introduced in fact in the UK is the use of steroid Prednisolone for patients in a hospital which has shown to reduce the duration of the illness and improve outcomes. As for other drugs, of course, they are being used but these are measures to eliminate the illness when it has affected someone who is in a hospital. From a public health perspective, I believe the efforts need to be redoubled in all nations to prevent people from getting infected and to prevent spread. That is what some nations have successfully done and we need to learn from these examples, because rather than sort of focusing on treating people who are ill which of course we must do; we will gain much more if we prevent illness and spread of the infection in the first place. I believe, in most nations, there is considerable scope to make additional efforts. Remember, the virus is as infectious today as it was at the beginning of the pandemic. It is the same virus. If we are not careful, it can spread without notice and that’s what we are seeing in countries like Spain. A few weeks ago, we were only having a few hundred new cases and now it is several thousand. We need to be careful because the world is now trying to adjust to the new normal. We are seeing public resuming normal activities because of course, you cannot have society in lockdown forever, but what needs to be done by all governments is to make sure that as these lockdowns are eased, people are not resuming normal living in a normal way. We have to make sure that there are safeguards and restrictions as people begin to resume normal living otherwise, we will see new spikes and even a national spike if we are not careful.
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NDTV: There are thousands of students from India who travel to the UK. Everywhere around the world there have been massive disruptions in education. Of course, the movement of families as well. When do you actually expect to see a further opening up of travel to the UK?
Dr Chaand Nagpaul: The UK should follow the same rules as all nations should follow. We need to safeguard the health of people that includes citizens of the country but also those who come to the UK. And I don’t think it is right to make policies without first of all being clear about the level of the infection in a nation. So, if you have got, for argument say, rising infection as we have seen in some pockets of the world, you would not want to see an increase in international travel to that country because that will put at risk those travelling to the country but also adds to the problem of containing a virus. First thing is, I would propose and this is what we have been putting pressure on the government to do is that, during these summer months make every effort to lower the infection rate to a level where we can feel confident that we can resume more travel into the UK. But that requires the UK to have a low and sustained level of infections. As I speak as a doctor, we (UK) rely on the medical workforce from India; every year, they come and train here. Those doctors provide service to our National Health Service. Of course, I would like to see restrictions eased but what we cannot do is put lives in danger by doing it in a non-evidence based manner and that is why the government first needs to reduce the infection rate.
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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 currentCOVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water,SanitationandHygiene) 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, fightmalnutrition, 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 wheretoiletsare used andopen defecation free (ODF)status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched byPrime Minister Narendra Modiin 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues likeair pollution,waste management,plastic ban,manual scavengingand sanitation workers andmenstrual hygiene.