As the second wave of the Coronavirus races to out-perform its previous versions, how will our vaccines keep up with the ever-mutating virus?
The Coronavirus is in the spotlight again with the second wave enveloping India in an unprecedented manner. The country saw over 100,000 new cases on April 4, placing it at the top of the list of countries with regards to new cases reported. Maharashtra reported 40,000 new cases on March 28, making it one of the worst-hit regions in the world.
In addition, the second wave is spreading faster than the first. While, in 2020, it took 61 days between June and August to rise from about 8,000 to almost 55,000 daily cases, this time, it only took 41 days to go from 10,000 to 60,000.
The numbers may be high, but there is a need to remain calm, Senior Consultant Physician at Mission Hospital, Bahadurgar, Haryana, Abhijit Choudhury told The Tech Panda. He says while the fear is part of human behaviour, there is no need to panic.
After a year of constant vigilance, everything is updated. Now, we are very much optimistic because we have so much knowledge about the virus
“Earlier, during the first wave, people hardly understood the virus. There was only fear. Medical institutions too were only experimenting. But after a year of constant vigilance, everything is updated. Now, we are very much optimistic because we have so much knowledge about the virus,” he says.
He urges that local governments must impose rules to contain the virus.
So, is this new improved coronavirus deadlier than the last?
“It´s deadly in the sense that it will keep changing in nature. Every living being on earth mutates. So, the virus too mutates for better performance, which means it will spread more easily, by being more contagious. If people follow rules, it will be restricted,” he adds.
India, which had only 10-15,000 cases in January, now has 35,000 in one day and the toll is only going up.
Despite these numbers Choudhury feels confident that fatality rates will not be high.
“Doctors and medical staff feel confident enough to deal with it. Fatality rate will not be high,” he says.
Vaccines: To Trust or Not to Trust
In the face of these alarming rise in cases, India has been fervently vaccinating its citizens with the two vaccines, Covaxin and Covishield. According to the latest reports, 90.2 million doses have been given so far, where in, 11.4 million people have been fully vaccinated.
Covaxin was created by Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech International Ltd in alliance with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and the National Institute of Virology (NIV). On the other hand, Covishield was developed by Oxford-AstraZeneca and the Serum Institute of India (SII) is manufacturing it.
Every living being on earth mutates. So, the virus too mutates for better performance, which means it will spread more easily, by being more contagious. If people follow rules, it will be restricted
While there are technical differences between both the vaccines, both have a three trial stage system. While Covishield´s success rate after the third stage of trial is said to be around 75%, Covaxin´s is 80%.
Lately, there has been some confusion regarding these vaccines, with Health Canada adding a blood clot warning to Covishield labels. Canada received 500,000 Covishield doses and expects 1.5 million more by May. Concerns over Covaxin´s rushed approval were also speculated.
Nine deaths have occurred so far post-vaccination. This has created some mistrust among citizens. However, Choudhury explains that not only are the number of deaths extremely low, but the reasons for the deaths are also unlikely to be vaccine related.
“It´s very minor, only 0.00001%. It´s so minor that you can´t say whether the deaths were caused by the vaccine or other causes,” he explains.
The Aditional Secretary of Health, Manohar Agnani has said that none of the deaths are linked to the vaccination.
However, others are still concerned. Noopur Bansal, Dnb Cardiac Anaesthesia Resident at Fortis Escorts Heart Institute, Okhla, told The Tech Panda that the vaccines developed so far might be working, but it isn’t a forgone conclusion that they can protect against every strain.
The virus keeps mutating, and it´s not possible to say with certainty that the vaccines can protect against all the strains
Two days ago, several doctors in Lucknow’s King George’s Medical University (KGMU), including the Vice Chancellor Lt Gen (retd) Vipin Puri, tested positive for COVID in spite of having taken the vaccine.
“The virus keeps mutating, and it´s not possible to say with certainty that the vaccines can protect against all the strains,” says Bansal.
According to BBC, thousands of variants of COVID are circulating. There is the Brazil variant (also known as P.1) and a UK or Kent variant (also known as B.1.1.7). The UK variant is currently dominating much of Britain and has spread to over 50 countries and appears to be mutating again. A South Africa variant (B.1.351) has been found in at least 20 other countries.
Can our vaccines keep up?
Is the World Ready for a Next Time?
Historically, we have experienced the Spanish flu 100 years back, when a deadly pandemic led to between 50 and 100 million deaths in 1918 and 1919 (as much as 1 of every 18 people). We were hardly ready when COVID came along. With more global mobility and trade, the spread of the virus was extremely rapid.
Will we be ready the next time?