13 Sep 2021: COVID-19 third wave: Chances 'very low,' says retired ICMR scientist
Former ICMR scientist Dr. Raman Gangakhedkar said the chances of a nationwide third wave of COVID-19 infections are "very low." He said even if it happens, it will be less severe than the second wave. Speaking to CNN-News18, Dr. Gangakhedkar maintained that COVID-19 may end up like the influenza virus, which started as a pandemic but has become seasonal flu over time.
Endemic: COVID-19 will become endemic soon: Dr. Gangakhedkar
Dr. Gangakhedkar believes that COVID-19 will become endemic. Noting that seroprevalence of antibodies against COVID-19 differs across states, he said, in the case of a third wave, the outbreak's timing, places, and intensity would differ based on population density, mobility, migration, and adherence to COVID-19 appropriate behavior. "Focal outbreaks will occur in vulnerable areas before COVID-19 becomes endemic."
Variants: 'No reason to worry unless there is new strain'
On increasing cases, Gangakhedkar said it was because "the vaccines do not confer 'sterilizing immunity' that can prevent infections as well." However, there is nothing to worry about increasing cases "unless there is a new strain against which these vaccines don't work," he added. Further, he said there is no such variant at the moment that has the potential to cause a third wave.
Vulnerable groups: Who all are vulnerable to the third wave?
If a third wave hits India, Dr. Gangakhedkar believes cases will not increase across all states. Instead, he said "focal" outbreaks of COVID-19 infections will be happening in "areas where the first and second wave may have been less intense." Those who are still not vaccinated, older individuals, and those with chronic morbidities are likely to be infected, he pointed out.
Fact: 'Every adult should take a vaccine'
Dr. Gangakhedkar said adherence to COVID-19 appropriate behavior irrespective of vaccination status is the best protective measure. With an increase in vaccinations, India will report fewer cases of hospitalizations, severe disease, and death. "Every adult should take a vaccine to minimize...the risk of death."
Children: Shouldn't rush to reopen schools: Dr. Gangakhedkar
Even though the chances of a third wave are "low", Dr. Gangakhedkar warned against rushing to reopen schools. Citing studies that suggest long-term side-effects of COVID-19 infection among children, he vouched for a decentralized approach to re-open schools in which decisions should be taken based on the local COVID-19 situation. "Children's health is a sensitive issue...Education is as important...but a balanced approach is ideal."
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