A large number of healthcare experts have warned of a third Covid-19 wave that may hit India by October and the pandemic would remain a public health for minimum one year, while assuring that it will be better managed than the latest outbreak. This was revealed in a snap survey conducted by Reuters between June 3-17 wherein 40 specialists, including doctors, scientists, virologists, epidemiologists and professors from around the world, said a significant pickup in vaccinations will likely provide some cover to another outbreak.
Over 85% of the survey respondents, or 21 of 24, said the next wave will hit by October, including three experts who predicted that the pandemic may hit again as early as August, while another 12 said it is likely to strike in September. The remaining three experts said the third wave may come between November and February.
However, over 70 per cent of experts, or 24 of 34, said any new outbreak would be better controlled compared with the second wave that has wreaked havoc across the country with shortage of vaccines, medicines, oxygen and hospital beds worsening the crisis manifold. Devastation in the first surge in infections that happened last year was comparatively lesser.
Dr Randeep Guleria, director at All India Institute Of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) said the third wave will be more controlled, as cases will be much less because more vaccinations would have been rolled out and there would be some degree of natural immunity from the second-wave.
So far, India has only fully vaccinated about 5% of its estimated 950 million eligible population, leaving millions vulnerable to infections and deaths.
While many of the experts predicted the vaccination drive would pick up significantly in the coming months, they cautioned against an early removal of restrictions, as some states have done.
When asked if children and those under 18 years would be most at risk in a potential third wave, nearly two-thirds of experts, or 26 of 40, said yes.
"The reason being they are a completely virgin population in terms of vaccination because currently there is no vaccine available for them," Dr Pradeep Banandur, head of epidemiology department at National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), was quoted as saying in the report.
Situation Could Become Severe
Dr Devi Shetty, a cardiologist at Narayana Health and an advisor to the Karnataka state government on pandemic response planning, said if children get infected in large numbers and there is not adequate preparation, there is nothing that can be done at the last minute. “It will be a whole different problem as the country has very, very few paediatric intensive care unit beds, and that is going to be a disaster," Dr Shetty was quoted as saying.
However, 14 experts said children were not at risk. Earlier this week, a senior health ministry official said children were vulnerable and susceptible to infections but that analysis has shown a less severe health impact.
Regarding the country’s vaccination exercise, 25 of 38 respondents said future coronavirus variants would not make existing doses ineffective. In response to a separate question, 30 of 41 experts said the coronavirus will remain a public health threat in India for at least a year.
"COVID-19 is a solvable problem, as obviously it was easy to get a solvable vaccine. In two years, India likely will develop herd immunity through vaccine and exposure of the disease," said Robert Gallo, director of the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland and international scientific advisor, Global Virus Network.
(With Reuters inputs)