Over 67 per cent of India’s population above six years of age has Covid-19 antibodies, leaving about 40 crore people still vulnerable to the infection, the Health Ministry said, citing a national sero survey by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).

’Large section vulnerable’

But ICMR chief Balram Bhargava cautioned against complacency as a large section of the population is still vulnerable to the virus. The fourth survey, one of the most extensive yet, was done in June-July on a general population of 28,975 and 7,252 healthcare workers.

Children between 6 and 17 were also included in the survey that covered 70 districts across 21 States.

Explaining the findings, Samiran Panda, ICMR’s head of epidemiology and communicable diseases, told BusinessLine : “It is an indication that the country is inching towards herd immunity, but we are not yet there. And it won’t be a good idea to drop the guard and lose our chance of winning this fight.”

The country is not homogenous and given the States’ heterogeneous nature, regional sentinel surveillance needs to be undertaken, he added. “States that have had low first and second waves (of the surge in Covid-19 cases) would be under-exposed to the infection. And, different States would have different levels of exposure,” he said, adding that 80 per cent of the second wave was seen in 10 States, leaving the remaining vulnerable now.


Variants, a worry

Outlining factors that could still skew the equation, Panda said a variant like Delta is a worry, as seen during the second wave in Delhi; a strain that escapes immunity developed naturally or from a vaccine; a more transmissible variant and, finally, if restrictions are relaxed too early, as seen in the North-East States.

So should the vaccination programme be streamlined now? Panda said the need is for a “smart” vaccination plan and not a “mass” programme. Prioritisation is required, he said, since about 10 per cent of healthcare workers are not yet vaccinated. Alongside, frontline workers, those over 60 and those with co-morbidities need to be prioritised, he added.

VK Paul, Member-Health, NITI Aayog, said the pandemic was not over. “One out of three is still vulnerable,” he said.

‘A ray of hope’

The survey found highest sero-prevalence in the 45-60 age group, at 77.6 per cent, followed by those above 60 years (76.7 per cent), and then the 18-44 group (66.7 per cent).

The fourth sero survey is “a ray of hope,” said Bhargava, stressing, however, the need to maintain Covid-appropriate behaviour and community engagement. He cautioned that the national sero survey was not a substitute for State/district-level surveys.

“There may be some States where the possibility of the future wave is much higher due to the large population being vulnerable. Societal, public and non-essential travel must be avoided or if necessary then by only those who are vaccinated,” Bhargava added.

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