India’s tryst with a magic vaccine to fight the coronavirus pandemic is just some days away if optimism of the scientific community is any indication. Coming up with a medicine in less than a year, against a disease that came as a bolt from the blue, is certainly a stupendous achievement for the medical fraternity and pharma industry.
It is a feat that calls for big celebration but at the same time emergence of the new strain of the virus makes it mandatory for the entire country to build one’s own defences even after availability of the vaccine. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s mantra “Davai bhi, kadaai bhi (Yes to medicine and yes to caution)” must form the foundation of India’s fight against the invisible enemy in 2021.
After reaching coronavirus cases peak in September, India has seen a steady decline in number for three months now. Minor surges in infected patients are not ruled out though scientists are of the view that the country would not reach another peak again. However, the country must guard against complacency when the vaccination programme is rolled out in all regions.
Scientists have warned that some virus strains may evade the vaccine’s immune response as it is in the characteristic of the SARS-CoV2 to develop some escape mutants. Since the pandemic began in last year, many variants of the virus cropped up in different countries. Demography and living conditions played a big role in development of the varied mutants.
But those were found less effective and were controlled easily by normal flu doses. The new strain, however, has perplexed the scientists as it is more transmissible than previous forms. It seems to infect more people than earlier versions even when the environments are the same. There is no concrete study on what gives the variant this advantage but emerging cases in the United Kingdom and United States have proved that the new mutant infects cells more efficiently.
The world is now slowly taking note of the new variant, but evidence suggests that it must be in circulation in the UK since September-October. In the last three months, India has welcomed many flyers from the UK and there is every likelihood that the news train is already in circulation in the country.
This puts India back in the vigilance mode though it may not look to see an encore of lockdown. The country has come out wiser from the last experience and will have to just focus on shoring up defences against the new strain instead of hitting the panic button.
The situation calls for a robust mechanism of continuous monitoring and developing new testing facilities for early detection of new cases. Drawing lessons from the first wave, the health machinery is now in a better position to deal with the news train.
More targeted measures are needed across the country on the lines of the vaccination drive planned to inoculate citizens when the vaccine is ready for administering first shots. Testing remains the only cover against the spread of the new variant. Even when
the vaccine is easily available and immunisation drive passes the logistics test there is no alternative to precautionary measures. As the variant is supposed to spread more easily it also
means that people will need to religiously adhere to precautions like social distancing, mask-wearing, and hand hygiene. Caution is the only solution in the developing situation. Public awareness campaigns coupled with measures like Janata Curfew or night curfew are need of the time even if those go against popular opinion. Normal life has started in almost every part of the country but a calibrated campaign to introduce precautionary procedures can only help in cutting down the spread of the new strain. The danger is clear and present, there cannot be a slipup at this point of time. Living in a denial mode has its own perils that India has experienced in the dreadful last year.
Avoiding repeat of 2020’s situation has to be the top priority now for administration and public alike. With preparations to reach out to beneficiaries in the final stage the drive also must be doubled up with a simultaneous testing programme.