Covid-related hospitalisations in the US rising by 30% in the past two weeks, with the elderly hit the most, is a warning to states in India to reactivate their Covid surveillance mechanisms. WHO has also sounded an alert and asked countries to focus on fully vaccinating those most at risk. China, caught between irrational zero-Covid and fast-rising infections, is bolstering its hospital infrastructure. Genome sequencing consortium Insacog has discovered a new Omicron variant with a Delta mutation. While waves of viral exposure, vaccination and consequent immunity levels may prevent a repeat of the Delta devastation, living with Covid leaves no room for complacency.
To avoid harsh measures, authorities must track new variants and hospitalisations, incentivise vaccine companies to develop and update vaccines and drugs, and persuade citizens to get vaccinated and boosted. After the Omicron surge in January, Covid had eased up allowing a full reopening of schools, colleges and offices. But what followed was an unexpectedly sharp decline in vaccinations. Nearly 7 crore people haven’t taken their second dose, and against 95 crore fully vaccinated individuals, just 22 crore have availed the booster dose. Just over 40% of eligible senior citizens have availed a booster dose and only 25% of those in the 45-59 age group.
Most Indian vaccine companies have stopped production of Covid vaccines. SII stopped producing its workhorse Covishield last December after lakhs of doses expired. Bharat Biotech’s new intranasal vaccine has been approved as a heterologous booster after passing safety and immunogenicity trials. Though its efficacy has to be gauged. BB had demanded its inclusion in CoWin so that citizens can get the shot. Perhaps, this is the opportune moment for GoI to take that call.
GoI must also provide monetary incentives to domestic vaccine companies like SII, BB and Biological E, to update their vaccines for the latest variants. Failure to provide such incentives or make bulk pre-orders had caught India napping during the second wave. Costs of such incentives, which will further R&D, shouldn’t be grudged. Alternatively, companies constantly updating their vaccines like Pfizer and Moderna should be invited to produce in India. Citizens also have a role to play by continuing the use of masks and completing their vaccine course. Let’s temper our sense that everything’s normal with some caution.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.
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