Amid assessments and reports warning of a possible third Covid-19 wave in India, Chief of the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation, Dr NK Arora, told CNN-News18 that he doesn't expect a wave in September-October this year as some are predicting. However, he says the same is contingent on avoiding large gatherings.
"Stopping the third wave is in public's hands. However, it depends on four factors and we are better placed than we were before.
"Every new wave likely starts with a ferocious new virus mutation. Firstly, genome surveillance has been expanded. We now have the capacity of 80,000 genomic analysis every month and there is a weekly bulletin coming out. Kerala doesn't have a new variant yet. Interval between variant mutation and identification is also reduced to 3-4 weeks.
"Secondly, latest sero-survey shows 33% population is still susceptible in India so we need to continue to avoid large gatherings. Social, religious, political gatherings have to be avoided especially with festival season coming up. We are already working on immunisation expansion. And finally, we are strengthening health systems too — ICUs and paediatric care units are coming up and being operationalised as our oxygen plants."
Arora added that while the country was preparing for the third wave, the attempt should be to ensure it doesn't hit. "A sizeable population is already infected or getting vaccinated and health systems are being upgraded. We need people's support here but I don’t expect a wave in September or October," he said.
'NEED TO SECURE PARENTS FIRST'
Speaking on the issue of the third wave being particularly devastating for children, Arora said: "We have 44 crore children below the age of 18 years and about 12 crore between 12 and 18 years. Usually, less than 1% of kids tend to have co-morbidities. At the moment, we are looking at one million children who will be prioritised. Overall, about four million such children will be given preference. Kids between 12 and 18 years in age with co-morbidities will start getting jabs by October."
Dr Arora had also indicated that the government will look at opening vaccinations for all children only after adult vaccination is completed. He says that is to ensure parents are safeguarded first.
"Supply is one issue but more importantly, we have to protect parents first. In children as it is, severe disease and fatalities are uncommon. So, we have to ensure parents are safe first and children automatically become less vulnerable. We have to go with proper priorities. We can't add 44 crore numbers to already existing 90 crore adults. So, within children, we will also prioritise (those with co-morbidities) and by first quarter of 2022, we should have vaccines for all children."
The government has also released two crore additional jabs in August to facilitate the vaccinations of all school staff by September 5 as schools begin to re-open across the country. "Just like workplaces have ensured that only those vaccinated can come in, state governments are working to ensure all teaching staff is also vaccinated," he said.