ICMR’s release of data indicating that just 0.02-0.04% of those who received first or second vaccine doses have caught the Covid infection, makes a watertight case for inoculating all adults as rapidly as possible. But even as Covid cases are skyrocketing in India, just over 8% of the population has been administered the first dose. In other words, too few of us have been inoculated to have an effective impact on the infection spread in this deadly second wave. Taking the long-term view, vaccinating more people from now on will prevent third or fourth waves. Widespread vaccination is the only Covid endgame in humanity’s arsenal.
According to ICMR, infections occurred in just 17,145 of 10.03 crore persons and 5,014 of 1.57 crore persons who took the first and second Covishield doses respectively. For Covaxin, the corresponding number is 4,208 and 698 persons among 93.56 lakh and 17.37 lakh recipients of its first and second doses respectively. Unfortunately, just over 21 lakh inoculations happened on Wednesday, paling before the 43 lakh daily jabs on April 5. Worrying vaccine shortages are being reported even as demand is poised to spectacularly explode from May 1, when young people join the rush.
In countries with advanced vaccination programmes, covered populations are showing lower hospitalisation and death while these have increased among those still awaiting shots. In the UK, hospital admissions have fallen faster in older age groups. In the US too, hospitalisation rate is declining in older groups vaccinated more even as it is rising among younger adults. Given lower immunity among elderly persons, vaccination’s impact is evident in the above phenomenon. But until everyone is vaccinated, inoculation is no individual passport to freedom. Experts are unanimous that until a society can declare herd immunity, all the pre-vaccination Covid appropriate behaviours like masking must continue.
Despite the data, communication is critical: Too many scare stories are propagating on social media of inoculated people still getting infected. In this alarmist feeding frenzy the exception, not the 99.96% norm, can get amplified. Covaxin’s interim data of 78% overall efficacy and 100% efficacy against severe Covid disease is encouraging. Instead of political haggling over vaccine prices, iron out the many bottlenecks that have eroded India’s vaccine throughput. Manufacture more, import fast. Also spare a thought for 40% of the population, below 18, not figuring in the vaccine discourse.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.
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