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EXPLAINED: What Will Happen In 6 Months? Why WHO Expert Has Asked People To Hold On In Covid Fight

Locals wait to receive their Covid-19 vaccine shot during a "vaccination on boat" programme in Gosaba Island in West Bengal in this recent photo. (Reuters)

Locals wait to receive their Covid-19 vaccine shot during a "vaccination on boat" programme in Gosaba Island in West Bengal in this recent photo. (Reuters)

When will the pandemic end is the question foremost on everybody's mind. WHO's Dr S Swaminathan has said that vaccinations are key to giving that answer

To counter the first pandemic of the digital age, vaccines were rolled out at record speeds and strict lockdowns were implemented in countries across the world. But more than a year into the Covid-19 crisis, complete victory is yet to be achieved against the novel coronavirus as countries keep going into and out of restrictions and rising vaccination rates contend with the risk of new variants and breakthrough infections. Here’s why World Health Organisation (WHO) Chief Scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan has urged people to hold on for at least six more months even as patience wears thin with the new normal of curbs, masks and social distancing.

When Will The Pandemic End?

The original question regarding COvid-19 is still the one hardest to answer. The pandemic is a crisis of several moving parts and there are several unknowns that scientists have to grapple with as they explore solutions for recovery.

“I know everybody is tired, everyone wants to meet their family, organise parties. But this is not the time to let down your guard. Let’s be careful for another six months," the WHO chief scientist said in Chennai last week.

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But if you’re wondering how another six months will help, reports explained that the WHO Chief Scientist said it represents a timeline for increasing vaccine coverage and not so much for the virus to disappear. If the vaccination coverage is “very high" in the next six months, “then things should definitely start improving", news agency ANI quoted Swaminathan as saying.

What’s The Vaccine Coverage So Far?

India has set a target of completing the vaccination process for its entire adult population by the end of 2021. Census projections for 2021 suggest that India’s adult population is at 94 crore. Now, considering that all the vaccines being used in the country — like Covishield, Covaxin, Sputnik V — as also those that have recently received emergency use appovals, such as the ones made by Moderna and Johnson and Johnson, use two-dose regimens, India has to deliver a total of 188 lakh shots between now and December 31 if it is to meet its vaccination target.

The Union Health Ministry said on August 8 that the country has so far administered a total of 50.6 crore vaccine doses. Under 30 per cent of eligible Indians have received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine so far while the proportion of people who have been fully vaccinated was 8 per cent as of August 6. The daily vaccination count reported on August 8 stood at 55.91 lakh. A simple back of the envelope calculation shows that, with about 138 crore doses yet to be given, the country will need to administer more than 93 lakh shots daily till December 31 if it is to overhaul the target of vaccinating its entire adult population by then.

Since vaccinations began in the country on January 16 this year, at least on two days, India has given more than 87 lakh vaccine shots, June 21 — which also marked the day that vaccination was opened for everybody aged 18 and above — and July 31.

How Many Doses Are Being Produced?

Reports earlier this month said the government had provided data to show that close to 137 crore doses of just two vaccines — Covishield and Covaxin — will become available by December. That would mean the country should be on course to achieve its vaccination target given that other vaccines, too, would potentially start arriving by the, including the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine that received emergency nod in August.

A note titled, ‘Covid-19 Public Health Response: Pro-active, Pre-emptive and Graded Response guided by Epidemiological and Scientific Rigour’, gave detailed break-up of Covishield and Covaxin doses that will be produced every month.

“In August, the vaccine projection of Covaxin will be 2.65 crore, Covishield will be 23 crore and total a 25.65 crore doses will be produced in the month. In September the projection of Covaxin is 3.15 crore and Covishield will be 23 crore, which in total will be 26.15 crore doses," the note said.

It also pointed to a ramping up of production numbers as the total for October was projected to be 28.25 crore doses, of which Covaxin will be 5.25 crore and Covishield will be 23 crore. The 28.25 crore doses that will be available in November will include 5.25 crore Covaxin and 23 crore Covishield doses, the note said, adding that the December numbers were 5.25 crore Covaxin and 23 crore Covishield for a total of 28.5 crore doses for the month.

While the makers of Covishield in the country, the Pune-based Serum Institute of India (SII), had said it had a monthly capacity of up to 12 crore doses, the Centre is learnt to have told Lok Sabha that the monthly production of Covishield will be increased from 11 crore to more than 12 crore doses while Covaxin’s would go from 2.5 crore to around 5.8 crore doses.

What Is The Trend Of Cases, Deaths?

The Centre’s Covid situation update for August 8 said that the country had recorded 39,000 new infections in the last 24 hours, making it the sixth straight week of cases staying below the 50,000 mark. Compare that with the peak of the second wave about three months back, when India touched a high of more than 4.14 lakh cases (7-day rolling average) on May 6.

The government said that the recovery rate from Covid-19 is 97.4 per cent while the number of active cases on August 8 was at 4.06 lakh, which accounts for 1.27 per cent of the country’s total positive cases since late January last year.

While testing has been ramped up and there werre more than 17 lakh tests reported on in the 24 hours till August 8, the Centre said that the daily test positivity rate had stayed below 3 per cent for the last 13 days and below 5 per cent for 62 straight days.

The country has seen more than 4.2 lakh deaths cumulatively due to Covid-19, but daily fatalities from the disease have hovered around 1,000 for close to a month now, lower than the peaks of 4,000 deaths per day that India had recorded in the middle of May during the second wave.

Mutations, Children: What Should We Worry About?

States like Himachal Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Mizoram, Karnataka, Kerala, etc. are reportedly seeing rising case loads and have a R-value of more than 1. R-value indicates the number of people to whom each person infected with Covid is potentially passing on the disease. An R-value of more than 1 points to a rising trend of the disease.

With suggestions that India is already in its third wave, or headed towards one, fears have been expressed that children — being a group that is unvaccinated and relatively less affected in the previous waves — face a heightened risk of infection. However, WHO’s Swaminathan said there was no reason to conclude that a third wave would affect children more severely.

Pointing to the government’s latest national sero-survey data, which found that about two-thirds of the participants, including children, had Covid antibodies, she said children have had their share of infections even if such cases were of mild and asymptomatic disease.

However, experts have warned that mutations are a cause for concern going forward because the more the disease spreads, the greater the chances of it picking up new mutations. Swaminathan said that if a new variant arises, “it could be worse than Delta variant", which was first detected in India last year and is now being blamed for fresh surges in several countries around the world.

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first published:August 08, 2021, 15:11 IST