With India’s inoculation drive against COVID-19 completing one year, vaccines remain the most effective weapon against the deadly virus though a number of drugs and other methods, including chanting of Gayatri mantra and Gaumutra-based treatments, have been tried. Besides vaccines, experts are only unanimous about the efficacy of masks, sanitisation and safe distancing in preventing the spread of COVID-19.
On January 16 last year, India rolled out the world’s biggest vaccination drive against COVID-19. The drive started with vaccinating healthcare workers who were then joined by frontline workers. The government then started the second phase of the vaccination drive from March 1 — for all citizens above 60 years of age and those over 45 years with comorbidities. On May 1, vaccinations were opened for all adults and this year from January 3, it began for children aged 15-17 years.
Even though vaccines remain to be the only acceptable weapon against the deadly virus, a number of drugs and other methods, including chanting of Gayatri mantra and Gaumutra (cow urine) are being tried. The Department of Science and Technology (DST) had funded a clinical trial at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in Rishikesh to determine if the chanting of Gayatri mantra and performing the yoga practice of Pranayama can aid the quality of recovery as well as cure COVID-19.
Dr Rajeev Rajesh, Chief Yoga Officer, Jindal Naturecure Institute, said though the human body has a natural ability to preserve, self-regulate, repair and maintain its entity, it requires something extra to deal with the constant challenges. “That is where the ancient practice of yoga comes into play. To stay healthy and fit both physically and mentally, you need to sustain your vital energy, nourish your body, boost immunity and support your mental health. That’s what yoga brings to you," he told PTI.
“From stretching the muscles to flexing the joints to improving blood flow, asanas shower us with a myriad of benefits that in turn, boost the immunity power of the body," he added. Rajesh listed asanas such as Tadasana, Vajrasana, Padmasana, Gomukhasana, Balasana, Uttanasana, Bhujangasana and Dhanurasana which can be practised on a daily basis to gain better health and strengthen immunity power.
“As for Gayatri mantra, there is still research going on to determine if chanting the religious hymn and performing the yoga practice of Pranayama can aid the quality of recovery as well as cure COVID-19. But one can perform Gayatri mantra along with the breathing exercises and there is yet no specific drug proven to improve health outcomes," he said. Rajesh further said that while there are certain herbs, minerals, foods, and naturopathic treatments along with yoga that can help enhance immunity, such measures should not be an alternative for preventive measures like vaccination, physical distancing, wearing masks, using sanitiser, etc. as issued by the government.
Dr Shuchin Bajaj, Founder Director, Ujala Cygnus Group of Hospitals, said Ayush has a very important role in countering cold diseases, not just COVID-19. “Yoga has many good asanas for increasing your lung capacity and increasing your strength. And also, meditation has a big role in calming your mind because we have seen that fear, anxiety and depression are some of the key things that come along with Covid. So that is a very good way to counter the mental health effects that Covid has on all of us. So very good results with yoga and there are Ayush therapies for all these diseases," Bajaj said.
Not just Ayush interventions, but several medical treatments were also tried to tackle COVID-19 but no widely accepted treatment has been seen till now. Recently, at a press briefing, NITI Aayog Member (Health) Dr V K Paul expressed concern over the “overuse and misuse" of drugs.
“The use of steroids can increase the chances of mucormycosis. Steroids are very potent life-saving drugs but they are also have side-effects and they disturb the immunological protection, they disturb many biochemical pathways so it was a very big lesson…we were learning at that time but now we know it so this is an appeal that general public should be aware that there is a set of rational treatments that are listed under the national protocols -ayush and mainstream protocol and we must be confined to that," he had said last week. “For fever, paracetamol is given, and for cough Ayush syrup can be used. This is what we have prescribed in the home care module too. If a cough continues for more than three days, there is an inhaler called Budesonide. These are the only three things that need to be done. Other than that do gargle, take rest, not overdo it has a cost," Paul warned.
Dr Rajesh Kumar, internal medicines specialist based in Noida, said allopathic medicines are the treatment for COVID-19. “Exercise in the form of yoga can help in improving immunity while chanting of Gayatri mantra and meditation can help with mental peace but these should never be confused with treatment of COVID-19," he said.
Kumar said there are medicines and treatment lines like plasma, Remdesivir, DRDO’s anti-Covid drug 2-deoxy-D-glucose (2-DG) and most recently Molnupiravir that were tried accordingly. “But the learning about the right medicines for Covid still continues as still there is no definitive medicine that can cure COVID-19," he said.
As attempts to tackle COVID-19 and its most recent variant Omicron continue, vaccines remain the most viable option for mitigating the disease. Recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi underlined the importance of vaccination and said irrespective of the variant, proven way to tackle the pandemic remains vaccination only.
India is currently administering three vaccines to the people — Covishield, Covaxin and Spurtnik V.