Given the size of India's population, herd immunity "cannot be a strategic choice or option", the health ministry said on Thursday as it urged people to follow COVID-appropriate behaviour till a vaccine is developed.
At a press briefing, when asked whether India was approaching herd immunity against the coronavirus infection, Officer on Special Duty in the Health Ministry Rajesh Bhushan replied that herd immunity is a kind of indirect protection from an infectious disease like COVID-19.
It happens only when a population becomes immune either through vaccination or immunity is developed through a previous infection, he said.
"In a country with the size of the population like India, herd immunity cannot be a strategic choice or option. It can only be an outcome, and that too at a very high cost as it means lakhs of people will have to be infected, get hospitalised and many will die in the process," Bhushan said.
He said herd immunity can be achieved through immunisation but that is in the future.
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.
"Are we approaching herd immunity? The health ministry believes it is still far away and in the future. For now, we have to follow COVID-appropriate behaviour like wearing masks, avoiding gatherings, following hand hygiene and maintaining 'do gaz ki doori (maintaining distance of two yards)," the OSD said.
"Till a vaccine comes up, following COVID-appropriate behaviour is the social vaccine against the disease."
The officer also said phase 1 and 2 human clinical trials of two indigenously developed COVID-19 vaccine candidates have started.
Bhushan also said the government has so far received 131 claims under the Rs 50 lakh COVID-19 insurance scheme for healthcare providers and payments have already been made in 20 cases.
"Under the scheme, we have received 131 claims. The claims are a bit slow in coming as the families are initially in a state of shock and therefore it takes time to sign and fill up the necessary paperwork.
"Out of these 131 claims, in 20 cases payments have already been made. In Sixty-four cases payment has been processed and would be made in the coming few days while 47 cases are with different state governments," he said.
The maximum number of cases are in Maharashtra, Delhi and Telangana, Bhushan said.
Due to enhanced testing infrastructure, on an average 4,68,263 COVID-19 tests have been conducted daily from July 26 to 30. The recovery rate among COVID-19 patients too has increased from 7.85 per cent in April to 64.44 per cent on Thursday, the officer said.
"Recoveries are now 1.9 times the number of active coronavirus cases.
Bhushan further said that 21 states and Union Territories have case positivity rate less than 10 per cent, while in four it is less than five per cent. The COVID-19 positivity rate in Rajasthan is 3.5 per cent, Punjab 3.9 per cent, Madhya Pradesh 4 per cent, and Jammu and Kashmir 4.7 per cent, he said.The OSD also stressed that effective clinical management has led to a decline in COVID-19 case fatality rate from 3.33 per cent on June 18 to 2.21 per cent on July 30.