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3rd Wave Peak Likely Crossed by Some Cities: How Vaccination Injected Vigour into India's Covid Battle

India has inoculated above 95 per cent of its eligible population with one dose and fully vaccinated over 70 per cent. (Representational photo: Reuters)

India has inoculated above 95 per cent of its eligible population with one dose and fully vaccinated over 70 per cent. (Representational photo: Reuters)

Many scientists are very hopeful that infection by Omicron after vaccination will serve as a potent booster. They say the super-immunity or hybrid immunity should protect people against severe disease.

Two years into the Covid-19 pandemic, the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 exploded across India around Christmas at lightning speed. Infections rose to record highs once again but hospitals were not overwhelmed and the number of deaths was under control. Most infected people fought back the highly transmissible strain with paracetamol in home care.

A dip in numbers indicates the current wave may have peaked in major Indian cities. The Maharashtra government has taken the bold step of reopening schools from the primary level from this week. Karnataka has lifted weekend curfews. The Delhi government is keen to lift weekend curfews and odd-even curbs. The Omicron-led third Covid wave did not bring life to a standstill in India like the first two. Now, hope has replaced despair. And it’s vaccination that has done the trick.

In the second wave, lack of preparedness due to complacency was undeniably a key reason behind the large-scale devastation. But it was the poor pace of vaccination that resulted in so many deaths. India started its inoculation exercise against Covid on January 16 last year. Because of production, supply, and poor vaccine policy issues until the first week of May 2021, India had fully vaccinated only three per cent of the eligible population and 14 per cent with one dose. That’s when the Delta variant was wreaking havoc.

Now, to the full credit of the Centre and state governments, India has inoculated above 95 per cent of its eligible population with one dose and fully vaccinated over 70 per cent. This is a remarkable achievement by any standard.

For two years, it was the virus that had the upper hand. Now science has turned a corner. The current vaccines don’t provide sterilising immunity as countless people are getting reinfected even after three doses and continue to fall sick from the virus. But many have been spared from getting severely ill or ending up in hospitals. Vaccines did work and saved lives.

Many scientists are now very hopeful that infection by Omicron after vaccination will serve as a potent booster. They say that super-immunity or hybrid immunity should protect people against severe disease. Experts say vaccination followed by breakthrough infection generates significantly higher levels of antibodies. As a result, the highly transmissible Omicron could indeed provide durable protection against Covid to scores of people.

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Eventually, say scientists, this will push us into the endemic stage by late February or early March.

Infectious diseases experts also say T and B cell immunity lasts a long time and so the effectiveness of the vaccines will not depend on antibodies but on cellular memory, which protects us against severe disease.

A preprint study from South Africa showed that almost 80 per cent of adults have immunity to the virus, despite only a 25 per cent vaccination rate, which means super-immunity is at play in the world.

After the deadly second wave last year, cautious state governments continue to be focused on the rise and fall in the number of infections. But the point is, India is racing ahead with the pace of vaccination. There is no supply issue any more. Besides, more vaccines are set to be released this year.

Boosters have already been rolled out; the 15-17 age group is enthusiastically turning out in record numbers and inoculation of the 12-plus age group could start as early as March. And if Omicron is doing its bit by providing stronger immunity to the large vaccinated population, then we seem to be headed for a better place this summer.

Therefore, the impact of Maharashtra’s reopening of schools will be keenly watched by the rest of the country. It won’t be very surprising if India goes back to normal by the end of this summer and children assemble in school for in-person classes in full strength, whether or not Covid-19 becomes a flu by the end of the year.

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first published:January 24, 2022, 18:02 IST