Why India’s 2nd Covid wave is so crippling

PP Sangal | Updated on April 26, 2021

Second shock Scaling up the vaccination drive is crucial for fighting the virus’ spread   -  Srinivasan KV

The Centre must accelerate the vaccination drive and ensure that people follow Covid safety protocols

The second wave of Covid-19 is surging fast in almost whole of India with the latest figure of more than 3,16,000 new cases per day with Maharashtra topping the list with 67-69,000. The Capital Delhi has already crossed 29,000 and all this happened within a short span of 17 days.

According to recent Lancet Commission India Task Force, the second wave is different from the first wave (started March, last year) in two ways.

One, in the second wave, the rate of increase of new cases is significantly higher and two, many more of the cases testing positive are asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic, resulting in relatively in low rates of hospitalisation and mortality otherwise our healthcare system would have collapsed much earlier.

The hospitals are already having acute shortages of ICU beds and oxygen and essential drugs medical staff. The Lancet Commission report had projected that India may soar past 2,200 Covid-19 deaths per day (already reached 2,102) if we are not able to break the virus transmission fast and reduce the number of new cases.

In the above grim scenario, what should we do? To answer this, let me first carefully examine what are the challenges and lacunae in our strategy to fight coronavirus disease.

In this regard, two important measures have been recommended by top medical experts of the world. They are: (a) vaccinating people at an accelerated pace and (b) strictly observing Covid-19 protocol/precautions.

Vaccine hesitancy

Talking about first measure, we are facing a big challenge. Some people harbour the myth that by taking vaccine they may suffer from other problems and hence it is not safe because they have been developed quickly without much research.

They are not aware of the fact that world scientists have valuable insights learnt from the research carried out on Sar-Cov-2 (Coronavirus disease) since 2001 when SARS broke out and MERS a few years later. Have we stopped taking other medicines which also have side-effects? Such cases, if any, are extremely low but the benefits far out-weigh any adverse effect.

Another reason for vaccine hesitancy on the part of the people is because it is felt that the vaccine generated immunity is only short-lived (no definite time limit is being given by medical experts), though ICMR has said that only a tiny fraction 0.02-0.04 per cent (2 to 4 persons out of 10,000 persons) got infected after receiving one or two shots. These discussions have a depressing effect on the minds of the people and affect the speed of vaccination.

The above myths and wrong thinking have to be removed from peoples’ mind. To this objective, the Centre should launch well-designed awareness campaigns by involving NGOs and other suitable agencies. The medical experts should convince people that vaccination at present is the right method to defeat the Covid-19 virus.

We also know that in countries such as Israel, US and UK, who have been able to vaccinate fast covering large population, new infected cases have come down sharply.

The same has been the experience in other countries like Brazil, Russia, South Africa and some EU countries.

As the Centre has now opened up vaccination for all above 18 years from coming May 1, it should greatly accelerate vaccination since the younger generation may perhaps be more forward looking. Of course, only time will tell.

Now, as we are focusing on giving fillip to vaccination programme, there are well founded fears of shortage of vaccination doses as the existing manufacturing capacity of two Indian vaccine makers —Serum Institute of India (SII) and Bharat Biotech — are about 60 million and 5 million doses per month and not at all sufficient for India’s population.

Vaccine makers get help

However, it is heartening that the Centre is advancing ₹3,000 crore and ₹1,000 crore to the SII and Bharat Biotech to ramp up their production and is going to clear brands okayed in US, UK, EU and Japan or under WHO’s emergency listing and some Indian private companies are being involved in making their vaccines. All this must be done with utmost urgency removing all procedural, financial and other hurdles.

Coming to the second weapon for winning the war against Covid-19 viz. wearing mask correctly, observing social distance (Do Gaz Doori) in public places and washing hands frequently with soap, it is very sad to see that many people have thrown this Covid-19 protocol to the wind. Thus the Centre should leave no stone unturned to tell the masses that vaccine would work only when they strictly follow the Covid safety protocols.

The political parties and the Centre too have given a bad account of themselves by organising big election rallies and large religious congregations such as the ‘Kumbh Mela’, where all Covid-19 precautions were allowed to be violated with impunity.

To conclude, both ensuring accelerated vaccination by the Centre and strict compliance of Covid-19 protocol/precautions by people are a must for achieving success against the deadly disease. Thus the government and people’s behaviour equally matter.

The writer is a former ISS and a UN consultant

Published on April 26, 2021

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