Rajat Sharma

The good news: A potential third wave may not be dangerous for children

AKb (1)The steady decline in number of Covid-19 cases in India is surely a matter of relief. The second wave of the pandemic that struck India in March-April is now declining fast. Think of those days when more than 4 lakh new cases were being reported daily. This has now declined to roughly 67,000. Beds, oxygen, ICUs are now available in hospitals for Covid patients. The number of Covid-related deaths is also declining. Think of those days when daily more than four thousand deaths used to take place, and there was no space available in crematoriums and burial grounds. But now, in the last 24 hours, the number of deaths has declined to 2,330.

The bitter truth is that people still fear those days when the pandemic was at its peak. Most of them do not even want to talk about it. People in India are now anticipating a third wave. They fear whether the third wave will target children. No vaccines are available for children. A sero survey conducted among 10,000 participants across five states by AIIMS in collaboration with WHO, has shown interesting results.

The interim findings of the ongoing sero survey say that there is no statistical evidence to show that children in the 2-17 years age group are especially vulnerable to a potential third wave. The sero survey conducted by AIIMS for WHO has allayed apprehensions regarding a potential third wave in India disproportionately affecting children below the age of 17 years. The survey was conducted in Delhi resettlement colonies, Faridabad, Bhubaneswar rural, Gorakhpur rural and Agartala rural areas from March 15 to June 10.

I spoke to AIIMS director Dr Randeep Guleria on my prime time show ‘Aaj Ki Baat’ on Thursday night about this sero survey. Dr Guleria emphatically said, the third wave is unlikely to affect children more, as the sero survey showed children had as much antibodies as adults above the age of 18. This, he said, means that 50 to 60 per cent children already had Covid infection earlier, therefore the chances are less that they will be more vulnerable during the third wave, if it comes. “We should not be worried or be in a panic that the third wave will hit children more”, Dr Guleria told me.

The AIIMS chief pointed out that during the second wave, those who did not catch Covid infection or got themselves tested, too had antibodies, which means they were infected with the virus, but had a mild infection. “There are fewer chances of them getting infected again”, Dr Guleria said. He said, in some areas, over 80 per cent people were found to have antibodies, according to the sero survey. Dr Guleria said he was of the view that there will not be as many cases during the potential third wave, compared to the surge in cases reported during the second wave. To avoid the third wave, he said, every person has to follow Covid appropriate behaviour, which is essential.

On vaccines being developed for children, the AIIMS chief said, Pfizer vaccine has been given clearances, while trials of other vaccines are also under way. These trial data will be published by September, he added. Dr Guleria also spoke about some cases of Delta-plus variant, a new mutant, reported from Bhopal and some other places. He said, it is a variant of interest, but the numbers are not a concern for us at the moment. The study on Delta-plus variant is still underway, and no such data have emerged to declare that it is more serious.

The AIIMS director pointed out that the surge in Covid cases during the second wave from March to May, declined only after strict lockdowns were imposed in metros and states. He appealed to people to get themselves vaccinated with any approved Covid vaccine that was available, because almost all the vaccines have proved effective. There is no study to prove that a particular vaccine is the safest, he said, adding, all the vaccines available at the moment are more or less effective.

On the issue of gap between Covishield doses, Dr Guleria said, people who received the second dose of Covishield 12 weeks after the first dose had more antibodies in comparison to those who took their second dose 4 weeks after the first one. Vaccine, he said, is the only weapon to defeat the virus and the pandemic.

Meanwhile, the first case of Delta-plus Covid variant in MP has been detected in Bhopal in a 64-year-old woman, who has since recovered. This is the seventh Delta-plus case detected in India. Contact tracing has led to 20 people, who were tested on Thursday. The woman’s sample was taken 25 days ago, and 16 samples have been sent to ICMR for genome sequencing and other analysis. The woman had already taken two doses of vaccine when she was tested positive on May 23.

Health officials said there were several bats living near her residence, and they often used to swing in through open doors and windows. The bats used to eat berries scattered in the woman’s courtyard. Sample have been sent for further analysis. The new Delta-plus variant has a new mutation named K417N.

While seven persons in India were infected by this Delta-plus variant, more than 150 people have been infected by this same variant in countries as diverse as Nepal, Canada, Germany, Russia, Switzerland, Poland, USA and Portugal. According to Dr V K Paul, member, NITI Aayog, variants of SARS-Cov-2 virus do mutate, but this is not a point of concern in India at this moment. Doctors and scientists are alert, and necessary precautionary measures are being taken.

Let the scientists carry on with their job. I would again appeal to all to get yourself vaccinated at the earliest, and, as Dr Randeep Guleria advised, please practise Covid appropriate behaviour at all times. This includes, maintaining social distancing, frequent washing of hands and wearing of proper masks when you move around in public places.

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