How to battle Omicron? Experts feel vaccine remains the best bet

(This story originally appeared in on Nov 28, 2021)

What should India do to prevent further mutations of the Covid coronavirus and check the potential impact of Omicron, the new variant detected in South Africa and other countries, if it were to reach the country? Top virologists and public health expert say the issue of utmost important in the circumstances is to ensure full vaccination.

“Even now, there are nearly 16-17 crore people in the country who haven’t got a single dose of the vaccine,” said Dr N K Mehra, former dean of AIIMS and honorary emeritus scientist, Indian Council of Medical Research. He said that Covid vaccines might not ensure 100% protection against infection, but there was credible data to show it did protect against the infection turning severe.

Mehra said the elderly and immune-compromised persons, such as cancer patients and organ transplant recipients, should be prioritised for vaccination. “Some of these people have received two doses of the vaccine. They may require an additional dose because studies suggest they have sub-optimal response to the vaccines,” he said. Countries like the US, UK and Israel have already allowed booster doses to high-risk groups.

Apart from providing additional protection to the immune-compromised patients, a third dose could help prevent mutations, said experts. The immune-compromised act as hosts for mutations of the coronavirus because of prolonged infection. “Omicron, according to initial reports, was first detected in a patient suffering from HIV/AIDS in South Africa,” said a doctor. “While healthy individuals tend to recover from Covid in 2-3 weeks, immune-compromised patients can continue to remain positive for 2-3 months.”

AIIMS Trauma Centre, which turned into a Covid-only hospital during the pandemic, had more than 50 patients with chronic kidney failure who persisted with the virus for more than three months, especially during the first wave. Another 40 patients, who remained Covid-positive for over a month, had haematological and other cancers, doctors pointed out.

According to Dr Rajesh Malhotra, chief of AIIMS Trauma Centre, there was a need to intensify well-established practices of testing, tracking and treating to prevent any new variant from causing a public health calamity. He said, “We have to definitely restrict travel from the affected countries and quarantine people arriving in India from there. We also must enhance surveillance and increase genomic sequencing for early detection of all cases of new or emergency variants.”

The Omicron variant, Malhotra explained, was a new one and there wasn’t much known about its ability to escape immunity generated by vaccination or natural infection. “It is important for us to know how our indigenous or locally administered vaccines will protect against this variant because this variant has mainly shown breakthrough infections in Johnson and Johnson and Pfizer vaccines. Let us hope our vaccines protect better,” he said.

Dr Chandrakant Lahariya, epidemiologist and public health systems expert, stressed on the need to adopt Covid-appropriate behaviour. “We need to do away with the complacency that seems to have set in over the last few months. The pandemic isn’t over,” he warned.


Leave a Reply

This website uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you accept our use of cookies.