Tuesday, Jan 19, 2021 07:15 [IST]
Last Update: Tuesday, Jan 19, 2021 01:36 [IST]
With the daily total number of cases fewer than 20,000, the Covid situation in the country seems to be improving. The number of Covid deaths is also decreasing. According to reports, daily new cases have seen a fall of over 80% since September. And vaccines are here. All we now can wait for is herd immunity. But is it too soon or even plausible to hope for this to happen?
Herd immunity is again in news again as the country began its nationwide rollout of Covid-19 vaccine on Saturday. The goal of vaccinating the entire population, according to the Union Health Ministry, would be to help states reach a level of herd immunity. What that means is that a majority of the population is immune to an infectious disease, slowing down the rate at which it spreads. But the launch of the vaccination campaign also has reignited a debate on whether herd immunity is possible with only the help of vaccines.
Not likely. According to experts, herd immunity is achievable with a vaccine with 70 per cent efficacy against transmission, but would require high coverage in the 18-35 year group in particular, which appears to be a great contributor to the transmission. But then in India, we are looking at older and vulnerable population for containing the spread. Also, the efficacy studies of the two vaccines are not known yet. The existing data from the vaccine manufacturers only provides evidence of protection against a progressive Covid disease, but not against person-to-person transmission.
The government may be able to achieve herd immunity by August when the country will have 22 per cent of the population vaccinated. But to achieve herd immunity or reach closer to that target, we will still need to cover over 50 crore more people. Post-August 15, if we continue at the same pace, it will take us eight months to cover 90 crore people. So if we double the pace of the vaccination in mid-April 2022, we can reach the target by the end of that year. This, is a mammoth task in itself.
On the other hand, the declining Covid infection and fatality figures may seem like a relief, but several doctors and health experts have warned that the possibility of another wave hitting India cannot be discounted.
Even as we hope that India will be hit by another wave, we cannot ignore such chances. In the case of the UK, for example, it was thought Covid was under control, but it has been hit by a new wave. There has been an increase in Covid cases amid vaccination. Although we wish that we have natural immunity, we cannot take the disease for granted. Also, the vaccination drive is not yet powered to achieve herd immunity. We have to be clear that this vaccination drive is to give protection to the vulnerable population.
It is clear that the trajectory of the disease is in people’s hands and we should all contribute to stop the pandemic. Getting vaccinated doesn’t mean that we don’t wear masks, follow social distancing and maintain hand hygiene. Covid is not over yet. A vast majority of people are still vulnerable. We have to protect them.