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India should brace for third COVID-19 wave by October, say health experts

The June 3-17 snap survey of 40 healthcare specialists, doctors, scientists, virologists, epidemiologists and professors from around the world showed a significant pickup in vaccinations will likely provide some cover to a fresh outbreak.

June 18, 2021 / 02:30 PM IST
Representative image

Representative image

A third wave of coronavirus infections is likely to hit India by October, and although it will be better controlled than the latest outbreak the pandemic will remain a publish health threat for at least another year, according to a Reuters poll of medical experts.

The June 3-17 snap survey of 40 healthcare specialists, doctors, scientists, virologists, epidemiologists and professors from around the world showed a significant pickup in vaccinations will likely provide some cover to a fresh outbreak.

Of those who ventured a prediction, over 85 percent of respondents, or 21 of 24, said the next wave will hit by October, including three who forecast it as early as August and 12 in September. The remaining three said between November and February.

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But over 70 percent of experts, or 24 of 34, said any new outbreak would be better controlled compared with the current one, which has been far more devastating - with shortage of vaccines, medicines, oxygen and hospital beds - than the smaller first surge in infections last year.

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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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"It will be more controlled, as cases will be much less because more vaccinations would have been rolled out and there would be some degree of natural immunity from the second-wave," said Dr Randeep Guleria, director at All India Institute Of Medical Sciences (AIIMS).

Reuters Poll - Will India suffer a third wave of COVID-19?

Reuters Poll- Possibility of Covid-19 third wave

So far, India has only fully vaccinated about 5 percent of its estimated 950 million eligible population, leaving many millions vulnerable to infections and deaths.

While a majority of healthcare experts predicted the vaccination drive would pick up significantly this year, they cautioned against an early removal of restrictions, as some states have done.

When asked if children and those under 18 years would be most at risk in a potential third wave, nearly two-thirds of experts, or 26 of 40, said yes.

"The reason being they are a completely virgin population in terms of vaccination because currently there is no vaccine available for them," said Dr Pradeep Banandur, head of epidemiology department at National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS).

Experts warn the situation could become severe.

"If children get infected in large numbers and we are not prepared, there is nothing you can do at the last minute," said Dr Devi Shetty, a cardiologist at Narayana Health and an advisor to the Karnataka state government on pandemic response planning.

"It will be a whole different problem as the country has very, very few paediatric intensive care unit beds, and that is going to be a disaster."

But 14 experts said children were not at risk.

Earlier this week, a senior health ministry official said children were vulnerable and susceptible to infections but that analysis has shown a less severe health impact.

Reuters Poll- What will happen to India's vaccination drive?

Reuters Poll- India Covid-19 outlook

While 25 of 38 respondents said future coronavirus variants would not make existing vaccines ineffective, in response to a separate question, 30 of 41 experts said the coronavirus will remain a public health threat in India for at least a year.

"COVID-19 is a solvable problem, as obviously it was easy to get a solvable vaccine. In two years, India likely will develop herd immunity through vaccine and exposure of the disease," said Robert Gallo, director of the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland and international scientific advisor, Global Virus Network.

Follow our full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic here.
Reuters
first published: Jun 18, 2021 02:15 pm

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