The coronavirus outbreak, now spread to 18 countries across the globe, has led to a steep increase in the demand for standard surgical masks.
As a result, a shortage of the product is being reported from several countries, given it is one of the first steps to prevent the spread of the deadly infection. China, where the disease originated and has claimed more than 200 lives as of January 31, is one of the countries that is facing a dearth of surgical masks.
But, little did we think that a similar shortage would hit us back home too. Wary businessmen, who were compelled to travel to China in the past two weeks, have reportedly siphoned off 20,000 masks from Mumbai alone. According to a Mumbai Mirror report, this has given rise to a shortage of N95 masks in the city.
Several chemists in the financial capital, where five persons have been quarantined on the suspicion of being infected by the pathogen, have reportedly run out of the face masks. Real chemist – a medical store located near the Bombay Hospital in South Mumbai – informed that several residents of that area frequent China for professional reasons. One of them bought 2,000 N95 masks from this chemist shop alone last week. When asked the reason behind this bulk purchase, he told that his acquaintances in China requested him to buy these.
Another chemist shop claimed to have sold 5,000 of these masks in the past two weeks. The owner of the medicine shop said: “So far, the virus has not reached Mumbai; but if there is an outbreak in the future, it will get difficult to meet the demand for masks.”
Frequently Asked Questions
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.
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.
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.
He also said that it would take at least 15 days more to replenish the stock of surgical masks in the city.
Meanwhile, Prasad Danve, who heads the Retail and Dispensing Chemists Association, has also confirmed that most chemists in Mumbai are facing a shortage of N95 masks as they are being taken to China in bulk. However, he also assured that there is no emergency situation in Mumbai as yet although all the 7,000 members of the association have asked to be prepared for an endemic.