The Coronavirus pandemic that dawned upon our lives during this time last year has decided not to go away, at all. Every time we feel like it’s over and the people, together, have won the battle against this invisible enemy, it just comes back stronger and more dangerous. A while ago, when the countries were finally recovering from our very own coronavirus and the daily cases were going down, the virus’ siblings- the new strains of coronavirus started coming into emergence, most of whom were far more contagious than the original version. The same story continues for India, with some active cases at this point in the country.
With the number of active cases falling in almost all the worst-hit states of India, Maharashtra this week saw a sudden surge in its numbers, despite the passing of the third wave. This brought in speculations from experts about the nature of the virus, especially because the inoculation drive is going on. It is revealed in reports by experts that the reason behind this new surge of cases in Maharashtra can be accredited to about 240 new strains of the virus that have surfaced in the state. The said information is made public by Dr Shashank Joshi, a member of Maharashtra’s Covid task force. Even though the Maharashtra government has announced a one-week lockdown in Amaravati from Monday to control the spike in COVID-19 cases, reports said that the containment of the new strains can be difficult because they have been reported to be highly transmissible, and infectious.
Herd immunity, or community immunity, is when a large part of the population of an area is immune to a specific disease. If enough people are resistant to the cause of a disease, such as a virus or bacteria, it has nowhere to go. While not every single individual may be immune, the group as a whole has protection. This is because there are fewer high-risk people overall. The infection rates drop, and the disease peters out.
While the authorities have been heavily relying on herd immunity as a source of prevention from any new strains of the virus and their containment, experts in recent reports have expressed how herd immunity for India is a myth. We really have no intention to scare you but the facts are disappointing, to say the least. For herd immunity against the Coronavirus in India, one prerequisite is that at least 80 per cent of people need to have antibodies in order for the whole population to be protected, as mentioned by Dr Randeep Guleria, the AIIMS Director. However, the new strains of the virus that are being found in the country, given they’re effectively more dangerous and highly transmissible, makes it extremely difficult to ensure the presence of antibodies in about 80 per cent of the population for the herd immunity to be effective. Not just that, it is to be further noted that there are chances of re-infection in people who have developed antibodies to the virus. So, while the government’s vaccination plan relies on creating herd immunity by inoculating a critical mass of people i.e. the frontline workers, the new strains seem to put a halt on the vision.
The more terrifying part here is that Maharashtra is not the only state witnessing a surge in the once dropping cases, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Punjab have also joined the list. Dr Randeep Guleria established that the mutations of the virus have an immune escape mechanism, making her immunity unachievable because those who achieved immunity by vaccination are also at the threat of re-infections. This means that if the variants are found in other states too, there’s a significant chance of the infection spreading vividly across the country too. It goes without saying how imperative it is to maintain pandemic related restrictions and undertake proper precautions, which have thus been relaxed after things allegedly started opening up. The country and its people cannot afford another round of this virus and the power to escape is nowhere but in our hands.
On similar grounds, the director of AIIMS, Dr Raman Guleria, said “India needs to go back to aggressive measures of testing, contact tracing and isolating infections.” Now, the big question here that I’m sure everybody is wondering- ‘Is the vaccine effective against the new strains of Corona Virus?’ Before we answer that, it is important that we note 2 things-
1. The mutants or the new strains are at the end of the day variants of the same virus and,
2. Doctors have readily expressed the ability of the virus to re-infect due to its immunity escape mechanism.
Therefore, the answer to the question if vaccines against coronavirus would work on the new strains of the virus is yes, they would be effective but, their efficacy would be considerably less. This means that the vaccinated individuals might not be able to escape the new strains and might not avoid getting the disease, but they would have a mild version of it. So, while they might not protect you from getting it, they sure are going to protect you from fighting it and hat’s equally important considering the large death toll the country witnessed due to the Corona Virus pandemic.
We know it all seems like bad news at this point but more than anything, we need to be prepared for anything that’s coming our way and learn from the mistakes that we did the first time. Regular surveillance, tests and researches would be and are being undertaken to prepare the country against the virus strains and if needed, there would be changes made to the current versions of the vaccine to ensure its better efficiency against the new mutations. But despite all that, it is up to us to cooperate and take precautions in such a way that we can fight against these stronger, more dangerous versions of the virus.