COVID-19 might never go away, become an endemic: ICMR

COVID-19 virus may not completely go away from the country, and it may reach its endemic stage after a while, just like influenza. The population will have to get booster shots of vaccines annually, said the Head of Division of Epidemiology and Communicable Diseases, Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR), Samiran Panda.

Endemic is a stage when the virus keeps mutating regularly. This means that the virus will “always be present” among a certain population or within a region.

In India, the first case of  Coronavirus was reported on January 30 2020. India has reported 4.09 lakh deaths since the beginning of the pandemic. The second wave of Covid-19 in India emerged in late February-early March and was at its peak in April and May. During the peak, the country recorded daily new infections and deaths due to the viral disease.

The wave has since then decreased, but fears over a possible third wave remain. A report has predicted that the third wave may hit India in mid-August 2021, raising the alarm bells for the government and citizens. On January 16, 2021, India officially launched its COVID-19 vaccination drive, with two approved vaccines – Covishield and Covaxin.

India has achieved a breakthrough in its vaccination drive by surpassing the USA in terms of the total number of doses. It indicates that India is increasing the vaccination campaign, but the risk is still increasing amid the Delta Plus variant.

According to Samiran Panda, the novel coronavirus will gradually become an endemic after a while. Panda explained that the vaccines are not infection preventing, but they will surely help to decrease the severity of the disease. Experiments conducted at the ICMR have proved that the vaccines available in India are effective against the new variants as well. However, the efficacy may differ for various strains, he said.

Vaccines are safe for everybody, even for people with normal allergies like asthma, dust allergy, allergy to pollen grains. Patients with co-morbidities can take the vaccine if they’re stable. Diabetes patients and other immuno-suppressed should get vaccinated because they’re at greater risk, said Samiran Panda.

Amid increasing Covid-19 infections, tourist inflow has increased in Himachal Pradesh after the COVID-19 restrictions were relaxed in mid-June. After having a look at the recent scenes from tourist places from northern India, Niti Aayog member Dr VK Paul said, “We cannot lower our guard”.

Risk increases at tourist spots as the crowd are not wearing masks and not maintaining the social Distancing protocol. This is a serious cause of concern. Prime Minister Narendra Modi also expressed his concern over the viral pictures and videos of crowded people violating the Covid-19 protocol in tourist places. “Over 10,000 vehicles crossed Parwanoo towards Shimla over the weekend. Hotels, homestays are all packed to capacity even in remote corners of Shimla and Kinnaur,” the police official tweeted.

 As the third wave of the coronavirus pandemic is about to hit India in mid-August, the top doctor urged people to take their shot of Vaccination from the vaccines currently available in the country instead of expecting globally available shots. He also urged breastfeeding mothers to take an anti-COVID shot. He explained that “antibodies which develop in a mother because of vaccine will passively transferred to the baby while breastfeeding”.

 Indian Council of Medical Research chief professor Balram Bhargava said that the health precautions related to the fight against the virus will remain, and people will have to keep wearing masks even after a vaccine is available. Many health protocols were put in place to prevent the coronavirus, which will stay for a long time, the ICMR chief added. He said the measures, including physical distancing, against the virus cannot be given up.

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