It will be unfair to put a date for any COVID wave as the behaviour of coronavirus is unpredictable and a disciplined and effective pandemic response can help the country get away from any significant outbreak, COVID Task Force chief V K Paul said on Monday.
Amid rising concerns over the Delta plus variant of the virus, Paul, who is also a Niti Aayog Member, asserted that there is no scientific data so far to establish that the new variant is highly transmissible or reduces vaccine efficacy.
In an interview to PTI, Paul said that another wave of any size would be dependent upon several factors, including overall discipline in terms of COVID-appropriate behaviour, testing and containment strategies, and vaccination rates.
"And in addition, the unpredictable behaviour of the virus can also change the pandemic dynamics. In such a scenario, their complex factor will determine the chain of transmission and outbreak.
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.
"Occurrence or non-occurrence of any wave, is in our own hands. To my mind, it is not fair to put any date for any wave," he said.
Daily fresh cases of COVID have come down from four lakhs during the peak of the second COVID wave to around 50,000 in the past few days and the unlock process or lifting of restrictions is underway in many parts of the country.
"If we are determined and disciplined and marshal effective pandemic response, we should be in a position to get away from any significant outbreak," Paul said.
Currently, three COVID vaccines -- Covaxin by Bharat Biotech, Covishield by Serum Institute of India (SII) and Russia's Sputnik V -- are being used for inoculation in India.
When asked about the Delta plus variant, Paul said scientific knowledge about it is still in the early stage.
"The so-called Delta plus variant exhibits an additional mutation in the Delta variant and since this is a new variant, scientific knowledge is still in the early stage.
"Whether this additional mutation in the Delta variant is associated with increased transmissibility or excess severity of disease, or any adverse effect on vaccine efficacy is currently not established and we should wait for this information to emerge.
"And we should wait for these aspects to be studied systematically," he pointed out.
A new viral variant of the coronavirus, Delta Plus, was identified on June 11, and was recently classified as a variant of concern.
Regarding the effectiveness of Covaxin and Covishield against the Delta variant of the coronavirus, Paul said that based on the scientific evaluation by the ICMR, both vaccines are effective against the coronavirus, including the Delta variant, which is presently the predominant variant in the country.
ICMR is the Indian Council of Medical Research.
When asked if India is close to giving indemnity to foreign vaccine makers like Pfizer and Moderna, Paul said the issue has multiple dimensions and it is not wise to give a timeline for such issues.
"The discussion for paving the way for internationally developed vaccines to India, is going on. The issue has multiple dimensions and we are trying to find an agreed way forward at the earliest.
"We are trying to expedite the progress in every possible way," he said.
However, he did not delve into the indemnity issues with respect to approving the vaccines made by foreign companies.
Indemnity is one of the issues that is still to be sorted out between the authorities and the companies -- Pfizer and Moderna -- with respect to approving their respective vaccines for use in India.
About the progress in Bharat Biotech's Covaxin application for getting Emergency Use Listing (EUL) certificate from the World Health Organisation (WHO), Paul said the process is proceeding very well.
"Additional documents were submitted by the company last week. We would like to see an expedited review of the data and hope that the decision will come very soon," he noted.
On whether the government was looking at reducing the gap between two Covishied doses, the Niti Aayog member pointed out that the country has taken the decision to increase the inter-dose interval for Covishield to three months after careful evaluation of the scientific data.
"The decisions such as this are taken by the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI), whose members include our top scientists. It is for this group to look at the additional data, additional scientific information and to take a decision based on scientific principles," he noted.
Last month, the government extended the gap between two doses of Covishield from 6-8 weeks to 12-16 weeks.
"As of now, their decision is to continue with the present dose schedule," Paul said.Follow our full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic here.