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COVID-19 | Achieving herd immunity difficult, new strains could cause reinfection: AIIMS chief

The mutated version of coronavirus could 'escape' through the immune system developed by the body. In such a scenario, maintaining COVID-19-approporiate behaviour is of utmost necessity to reduce the pace of transmission, said Dr Randeep Guleria.

February 22, 2021 / 09:58 PM IST

Achieving herd immunity against coronavirus in India is "difficult", said Dr Randeep Guleria, Director, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), on February 20.

The new strains of COVID-19, which are feared to be responsible for the recent spike in Maharashtra, "could be more infectious", the country's top doctor told NDTV.

The mutated version of the virus could "escape" through the immune system developed by the body. In such a scenario, maintaining COVID-19-approporiate behaviour is of utmost necessity to reduce the pace of transmission, Dr Guleria stressed.

On being asked whether the vaccines can prevent infection through the evolved strains, the AIIMS chief said it cannot be estimated how effective the jabs would be against the mutated versions of COVID-19.

Those administered with the vaccine, however, are likely to be diagnosed with only mild symptoms if they are infected by the new strains of virus, Dr Guleria said, adding that vaccination is an essential step in the fight against the pandemic.

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COVID-19 Vaccine

Frequently Asked Questions

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How does a vaccine work?

A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

How many types of vaccines are there?

There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.

What does it take to develop a vaccine of this kind?

Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.

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Also read: 5 states witness upsurge in daily COVID-19 count: Govt

India has so far vaccinated over 1.08 crore benefeciaries, including more than 72 lakh health workers. The country is expected to shortly launch the next phase of vaccination drive, which aims to cover 27 crore persons who are aged above 50 or suffer with comorbidites.

According to Dr Guleria, the focus should also be on detecting new strains of the virus to prevent cluster outbreaks. Genome sequencing of samples, combined with effective collection and analysis of data will boost the efforts to curb the rate of transmission, he added.
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