Omicron likely to trigger third wave, alert experts, Health News, ET HealthWorld
New Delhi : Sharing observations on the currently available data about the Omicron variant, health experts were of the view that the possibility of the new variant being highly transmissible also raises the chances of India encountering a third wave. The number of cases can climb upto lakhs per day but the instances of hospitalizations and severe diseases might reduce significantly owing to milder nature of the new variant. This observation however, is yet to be verified with the backing of scientific data and research. Further highlighting that the immunization of the entire population with COVID vaccines and subsequent administration of booster doses to at-risk population is necessary to avert any COVID waves in the future.
Speaking about the possibility of a third wave owing to the new variant, Dr Biren Chauhan, Group COO, Sunshine Hospitals said, “We have witnessed the devastating impact of two COVID waves and Omicron possesses the risk of a third wave. The scientific community is still awaiting more data to predict accurately the nature and scale of the next wave. More or less this depends on transmission capabilities, disease severity potential of the Omicron variant, and population compliance towards COVID appropriate behavior.”
Adding on the help that experience from prior waves can provide in tackling any waves in future, Chauhan added, “Experience of fighting previous waves and a vaccinated population are the two major differentiating features that will work in our favor to tackle the next wave effectively and efficiently. Experience grows with time but Vaccine-Induced Immunity reduces with time. What we need is an immediate role out of the plan to get a booster dose of the Covid vaccine and execute it without wasting time or vaccine vials. The resilient Indian healthcare sector is more than ready to take on any challenge that Omicron throws at us.”
How severe is the disease caused by the new variant
While the currently available data suggest that the numerous mutations have led the variant to be more transmissible, it might have also led to the reduction in severe diseases caused by COVID. Though the data is yet to be received and analyzed, the current Omicron cases have only had mild symptoms with no deaths being reported which points out that the variant might have lesser abilities to cause a severe disease.
Elucidating on the differences observed in the severity till now, Dr Jayalaxmi TK, Consultant, Pulmonologist, Apollo Hospitals Navi Mumbai said, “The preliminary studies suggest that the Omicron virus is comparatively milder than the previous variants and there is not as much lung involvement . But it is too early to confirm that. As the number of cases increase we would be more able to see the extent of admissions ,oxygen requirements and serious cases .The effects of this variant can only be determined with time, probably within a month.
Talking about the observations from the cases reported till now, Dr Jayalaxmi added, “As of now from the initial data coming in from South Africa it appears that the Omicron virus variant is much faster spreading but causes less serious infection with lesser hospitalization. Prior covid vaccination appears to give a good amount of protection and most of the admissions are unvaccinated. Previous infections also protect, but not as well as seen in the earlier variants .”
Uncertainty around the efficacy of vaccines against the new variant
While scientists are still working to fetch data about the efficacy of vaccines against the variant, experts have suggested that the immunity and protection offered by the vaccine can help in reducing the severity of the disease and instances of hospitalization. While it might not offer protection from reinfection which has been seen in many Omicron cases, vaccines will remain effective in reducing the impact according to the preliminary analysis.
Demands for booster doses have risen in the country amidst the detection of new variants and signs of waning immunity in those administered vaccine doses earlier this year. While the working group and health regulators are in talks to devise a policy for booster dose and immunization for children, many health experts are of the view that India needs to focus on achieving 100 per cent fully vaccinated adult population before it can move on to administering booster doses.
While the World Health Organization (WHO) has maintained its stand on booster doses depriving others from getting the vaccine and wanting the most vulnerable to be vaccinated first, many health regulators in different countries have approved booster doses for its citizens. At least 36 countries are now in the process of administering booster doses with Lancet listing out six vaccines- AstraZeneca, Pfizer-BioNTech, Novavax, Janssen, Moderna, Valneva, and Curevac safe for booster dose administration.
India has currently fully vaccinated 51 percent of its adult population with 85 percent receiving at least one dose of the COVID vaccine. Government data however show many adults being overdue for their second dose, a lag which has been witnessed throughout the country. The Central government in association with states has tried to ramp up vaccination programme through campaigns to reach populations in remote and underserved regions.
Talking about the uncertainty around the new variant and possibility of a booster dose in India, Dr Rakesh Pandit, Senior Consultant and HOD, Internal Medicine, Aakash Healthcare and Super Speciality Hospital said, “Omicron is a new variant of Covid-19, so we’ll have to wait a couple of weeks to see its rate of transmission and mortality. The number of patients coming to finish their two doses of Covid vaccine is increasing as the threat of Omicron escalates. The third booster dose would be entirely dependent on the Government of India’s new immunization guidelines, which are expected to be released soon. First, we must focus on people who have not yet received their first and / or second doses, after which high-risk individuals such as frontline workers and medical professionals can receive a booster dosage.”
Adding on receiving government’s instructions before going for booster doses, Dr. K. Preetam Medical supritendent, Indian spinal injuries center said “Till now the ICMR hasn’t approved or recommended third dose, so the question of getting the booster dose should be ruled out for now. Only the USA has issued some guidelines on booster dose so far, people should wait for guidelines from the govt and take the shot if the government advises.”
India’s best bet: Covid appropriate behavior
As the cases rise, doctors suggest that covid appropriate behavior and subsequent vaccination remains India’s best defense against any variant of Covid. With higher transmissibility being reported in the new variant, it becomes all the more essential to maintain Social distancing, wear masks, use sanitizer and follow all the guidelines issued by the health ministry to protect oneself from catching Covid.
Offering suggestions on preventive measures that can be undertaken to prevent the spread, Dr Srikanta J T, Consultant – Paediatric Interventional Pulmonology and Sleep Medicine, Aster CMI Hospital said, “With the current scare of Omicron hanging in the background, it becomes even more important for each one of us to be more vigilant and not let our guards down. Coming to school and colleges, and infectivity in children, the studies in South Africa suggest that, the Omicron is more infectious than the deadly delta variant but at the same time not as severe as the latter. With most adults getting the second dose of vaccine, will Omicron ravage our country is a far-fetched thought? But at the same time we have to not let our guards down and continue practicing Covid appropriate behavior. Increase surveillance for detection and diagnosis of the new variant, vaccination of many adults with two dose is crucial.”
Further expanding on the guidelines provided by the health ministry and the precautionary measures for incoming international passengers, Dr Abhishek Subhash, Consultant Internal Medicine at Bhatia Hospital noted that people who have traveled from abroad should take the responsibility to quarantine themselves and do the necessary RT-PCR test. People positive for the virus should quarantine themselves in the strictest manner to avoid the spread of the infection in the community.
Mounting on the suggestions granted by experts, priority should be to get oneself fully vaccinated as and when the vaccine is available. Following Covid-appropriate behavior at all times till the uncertainty remains around the new Covid variant can help in averting rise in Covid cases in the near future.