Although North Karnataka districts are consistently showing a low rate of infection over the last few days, the low vaccination rate and low seroprevalence in these districts indicate that it is premature to celebrate, say experts.
Districts like Bidar, Haveri, Kalaburagi, Raichur, Yadgir, Bagalkot and Vijayapura in North Karnataka have either been reporting new cases in single digits or zero cases for the last week. These districts have also recorded among the lowest second dose coverage in the State as well as the lowest seroprevalence.
Way below average
According to the second seroprevalence survey that was carried out in 290 healthcare facilities spread across Karnataka from January 25 to February 18 this year, the State’s average seroprevalence was 15.6%. The lowest prevalence was found in five districts in North Karnataka – Haveri (3.7%), Bidar (4.5%), Yadgir (5.5%), Dharwad (5.8%) and Kalaburagi (6.3%).
As on August 30, the lowest second dose coverage was recorded in Haveri (11.5%), Kalaburagi (12.4%), Raichur (12.6%), Vijayapura (13.5%) and Belagavi (14.3%).
Public health experts say it is important to take into account vaccination coverage and seroprevalence in the area, besides deaths due to COVID-19 and hospital bed occupancy. On the other hand, more cases being reported in a particular district should not result in panic as cases being detected in the particular district shows that the surveillance is working.
TAC member Giridhar R. Babu, who also heads Lifecourse Epidemiology at Indian Institute of Public Health in Bengaluru, said the battle against multiple waves has to be fought by using data from seroprevalence and vaccination coverage.
“Areas with lower vaccination coverage and lower seroprevalence are the most vulnerable, not only for rise in cases but also increased hospitalisation and deaths. This is because a higher proportion of people are susceptible to getting infected there. Whereas, areas with high vaccination coverage will have the advantage of relatively low mortality and hospitalisation,” he said.
“The authorities should use information from the seroprevalence and vaccination coverage and prioritize the areas which have greater proportion of people with higher susceptibility. Such areas require targeted increase in vaccination coverage and strengthening of hospital response for treatment,” Dr. Babu asserted.
C.N. Manjunath, nodal officer for labs and testing in the State’s COVID-19 task force, concurred. “We are at the fag end of the second wave now but we have to watch out for the third wave and cannot afford to be caught unawares. It is important to sustain a test positivity rate of less then 1%, which is the nationwide trend except in Kerala now,” he said.
Health Commissioner K.V. Trilok Chandra said the State is focussing on enhanced vaccination in all districts, irrespective of the seroprevalence and the extent of new cases being reported. “Each district behaves in a different pattern during every surge. Our goal is to vaccinate the entire adult population by the end of this year. A record 1.17 crore doses were administered in August and we will keep up the tempo this month too,” he said.
He attributed the low number of cases being reported from North Karnataka districts to regular and enhanced testing. “Apart from intensifying vaccinations, we are augmenting staff and infrastructure in the districts for a possible third wave,” the Commissioner added.