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Last Updated : Sep 21, 2020 07:23 AM IST | Source: PTI

Health Ministry mulls gathering data on suspected COVID-19 reinfection cases: Source

They said it needs to be confirmed whether these cases are indeed distinct second infection and not just lingering effects of the first one.


Taking note of instances of suspected COVID-19 reinfection reported from Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Gujarat, Delhi and Maharashtra, the Union Health Ministry is considering gathering data of such cases to ascertain their veracity, sources said.

They said it needs to be confirmed whether these cases are indeed distinct second infection and not just lingering effects of the first one.

This can be done only by genetic sequence analysis to see if it is the same strain of the virus which had caused the first infection or a different one.


For gathering data on suspected cases of COVID-19 reinfection, the health ministry may also issue guidelines and a format based on which database of all such cases is to be maintained by the State Surveillance Units (SSUs) and District Surveillance Units (DSUs), sources said.

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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Worldwide, there isn't sufficient evidence on reinfection. Most scientists describe the recurrence as shedding of the residual virus which may happen for up to three months since the first infection is diagnosed, Dr Neeraj Nischal, an associate professor in the Department of Medicine at AIIMS said.

During such a time their RT-PCR test may come positive, he said.

"The second possibility is that it could be a different strain which is causing the infection. To know whether it is reinfection or active infection, one can do viral culture, sub-genomic RNA analysis or compare the genome of the two samples -- that of the first infection and the supposed recurrence.

"But these methods are technically demanding and not easily available," Dr Nischal explained.

ICMR Director-General Dr Balram Bhargava had last week said reinfection of COVID-19 is possible, even though it is a "very rare" occurrence. He, however, stressed that it is not a matter of serious concern.

"We have seen someone gets measles and is supposed to be protected all his life because he generates certain antibodies. But then, we have seen reinfection occurring in measles as well.

"Similarly, we can have COVID-19 reinfection as has been described by the case in Hong Kong. But, it is not a matter of serious concern. It has been noted that whenever reinfection occurs, both the infections have been mild," Bhargava said.

He had earlier said there is a need to find out how long immunity lasts.

Suspected cases of COVID-19 reinfection has also triggered concerns regarding the effectiveness of vaccines being developed.

According to some researches, immunity to coronavirus probably lasts at least three months or even longer, but it has not been scientifically established yet how long immunity lasts.

"Understanding how our immune system responds to the virus is an important step towards vaccine development," Dr Sanjay Rai, a professor in the department of community medicine at AIIMS said.

"What should be of concern is whether the virus is mutating very fast and to find out if the magnitude of mutation is very large. Then the vaccine developed against the virus may not act on this mutant variety. We don't have evidence to suggest drastic mutations in strains of SARS-CoV-2 in India till now," he said.

The concept of immunity after an infection is important because if immunity wears off it could pose a challenge for vaccines, another researcher said, adding that booster shots may be needed.

It is also unclear whether reinfected people would be able to spread the virus. That's another reason why scientists say people should continue to wear masks, practise social distancing and good hygiene, experts said.

Instances of coronavirus reinfection have been reported from Hong Kong, Belgium and the Netherlands raising concerns that herd immunity may not be enough to curb the pandemic.

However, scientists in India and elsewhere said more studies are needed for reliable inference.
First Published on Sep 20, 2020 10:40 pm