New Delhi: As India’s second wave surge of Covid-19 seems to be receding, experts and doctors warn people and authorities about the possible third wave, which could be worse than second wave situation in the country. NDTV speaks with Cardiac surgeon Dr Devi Shetty, who heads the expert committee of doctors set up by the Karnataka government to prepare for a possible third coronavirus wave. Dr Shetty talks about the importance of vaccination ahead of the next wave, what individuals and authorities should work on and how can together as a community, India can reduce the effect of the coming wave, if it hits the country by September or early next year.
Here’s the full interview with Dr Devi Shetty on how to prepare for Covid-19 third wave:
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NDTV: When is the third wave anticipated to hit India?
Dr Devi Prasad Shetty: I think, no one can predict the same. Whether it will be as severe as the second wave, or will it involve children particularly. However, what we can do is prepare ourselves to deal with the third wave, which could happen in September, October, November or next year. We need to also prepare ourselves that the third wave will be as bad as second wave or at least 30 per cent severe than the second one because we need to be prepared for worst case scenarios. Also, we should be prepared for children getting infected by this virus in the next wave as that is what is being predicted.
NDTV: What is the role of vaccination to control the third wave in India? How important it is to scale up our vaccination drive?
Dr Devi Prasad Shetty: Today, we have an option to convert the entire third wave into a wave which infects people with common cold. All the trials of vaccine that have happened around the world show that people who have got vaccinated don’t land up in the hospital ICUs and need oxygen support. But the question is will we be able to vaccinate adequate number of people before the third wave. Now everyone thinks the availability of vaccine is a problem and the government will not be able to provide the vaccine, but it is not the case. The government will be able to provide the same within the next few months. The greatest stumbling block will not be the availability of the vaccine but the reluctance of people to get vaccinated. Every day we open more than 600 slots of vaccine, you know how many people actually land up – not even 150 and this is happening in areas where most educated people live, you can well imagine what will be the case in rural India. So, vaccine hesitancy is a big problem, and nobody is right now addressing it or campaigning for it. But over the years, it will be a big roadblock in our battle against the virus.
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NDTV: How do we tackle vaccine hesitancy in India?
Dr Devi Prasad Shetty: We need to make some kind of system in place, for example at workplaces, people who are vaccinated should be allowed to work together and those who are not, should be asked to work from home. Any public places like shops, malls, restaurants, people who are vaccinated should be allowed and others should have a separate space. Talking about Airlines, today they are asking for COVID test certificates, they should start with vaccination certificate, whoever has the same can fly without providing the COVID test certificate, who would want to go for tests every now and then – firstly it is not easy and secondly it is a discomfort. As a result of such practices, people will automatically embrace vaccine and we will see large number of people getting the vaccinated. I think for now that’s the only way to go ahead, we don’t have many options.
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NDTV: Are vaccines available safe? What do we know about its effectiveness?
Dr Devi Prasad Shetty: You will know, how effective each of the vaccines are after two or three years. We should assume that all the vaccines are same as long as they are recognised in your country, so whatever vaccine is available, one should just go for it.
NDTV: Is it a right time for India to unlock or should the country open up gradually in phases?
Dr Devi Prasad Shetty: We cannot keep the establishments closed forever. One day or the other we will have to open and when we do, the virus which is highly active will come and get us. However, having said that there are certain things we can do for example if we stress on getting vaccination certificates from people who are running shops, certificates for any marketer who is selling one or the other things in the market and along with this we practice safe distancing, masking – with all these precautions, I think we can open up. When we started this battle, a year ago, we did not have any option but to stay in lockdown, but now we have vaccines, and we know even one dose of vaccination gives you so much protection. So, why don’t we change the entire narrative from when to open shops and when to do this to when do we start vaccinating more and more people. It is sad to see when we have 30,000 to 50,000 vaccine doses in our refrigerators, and nobody is coming to the hospitals to get vaccinated. The problem is many people haven’t seen the scenes from inside the ICUs, they don’t know the struggle of patients in the ICUs, when they are put on oxygen support, even after COVID-19 complications. When they will see this, they will all run to get themselves vaccinated.
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NDTV: How should we manage a situation like shortage of beds and other COVID-19 essential supplies ahead of third wave? How should authorities prep themselves?
Dr Devi Prasad Shetty: Everyone thinks a bed will fix all the problems. First of all, we will need a dedicated nurse and a dedicated doctor to treat a particular patient, which we have a serious problem. We need to address this issue of shortage of healthcare staff on an urgent and exceptional basis. Secondly, we need to make sure we have as many as possible ICU beds connected with piped oxygen supply. It only takes Rs 10,000 to convert a normal ICU bed to one which is connected with piped oxygen supply. It is sad to see people in auto rickshaws with oxygen cylinders, it is sad to see people struggling for as basic thing as an oxygen bed. Now, we all have a window of opportunity to prepare ourselves, our healthcare services. We need to look at our small hospitals. Most of the people think, if it is a big hospital with 300 beds and more, it will take care of COVID patients more efficiently. That’s not the case at all, most of the COVID-19 cases are being managed by small hospitals with 100 or 50 beds and the irony is that they hardly have 5 or 10 beds with oxygen facilities. Now, we have to look at how do we make such hospitals make investments on converting their existing beds to COVID-19 apt beds or oxygen beds. Banks now days have started giving loans to hospitals at lesser interest rates if they want to invest in the upgradation of health facilities. State governments should also start giving some form of subsidy so that these small hospitals make those investments at the right time, which is now.
If we can make 18 cities in India oxygen independent, believe me there will not be lockdown. A lockdown basically happens when the medical system is overburdened, and doctors raises their hand and say we cannot do anything as we don’t have beds or facilities. However, if we strengthen the healthcare facilities only at the start, people will be managed better, and the wave will not be severe.
NDTV: What is the role of people and community in this fight against COVID-19?
Dr Devi Prasad Shetty: Every Indian should think that the fight against COVID-19 is not only government’s problem. It is the community’s problem, so they all should come together and ensure that the country becomes COVID-19 free as soon as possible. For example, if individuals start ensuring that their household and other people who are coming in their house are vaccinated, if there is a financial problem then you are supporting these people – i think it can be a game changer. Companies also should start taking responsibilities of their workers and ensure they are vaccinated. All this is community effort, all this together will help us win this battle. And obviously, all this along with masking and while you maintain social distancing.
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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 current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation 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 pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene.