India is witnessing a downswing in the second wave of COVID-19 and hopefully it will be sustained even when restrictions are gently, systematically and cautiously relaxed, the government said on Thursday.
Addressing a press conference, NITI Aayog member (Health) V K Paul said the country continues to note stabilisation of second wave in most parts, both by the number of cases and positivity rate, and despite a sustained and high overall testing coverage which is “reassuring”.
“We are achieving this in face of very significant restrictions in most states in addition to other tools and operations, including testing and COVID appropriate behaviour and vaccination efforts. Nonetheless, it is reassuring that we are on the downswing of second wave and we do hope and believe that it will be sustained even when restrictions are gently, systematically and cautiously opened up,” he said.
Health ministry Joint Secretary Lav Agarwal said a steady decline in new COVID-19 cases has been recorded in India for the last 20 days, with 24 states witnessing a dip in active cases since the last week.
He also said that while COVID-19 testing has increased manifold, a steady decline in weekly COVID-19 positivity rate has been seen since the last three weeks.
Paul said the vaccination pace should pick up in July.
“We have a total of 51.6 crore doses, a large proportion of it is available and has to be used in an efficient manner even as we build our efforts to build our stockpile in the time to come. I would like to state that Bharat Biotech which started with 90 lakh capacity is ramping up and it is well within our expectation that it can reach ten times the production level to 10 crore per month in the next few months,” he said.
Paul said similarly the Serum Institute of India is also ramping up vaccine production from 6.5 crore per month to 11 crore or even more in months to come. Other vaccines in the pipeline are also moving close to increase supplies such as Sputnik, Zydus and Genova vaccines so steady progress is being made.
“We are also reaching out to international manufacturers, in particular Pfizer, for making vaccine available now that they have shown interest and indicated possibility of vaccine to be spared for India,” he said.
The official said the government has been making significant efforts in reaching out to foreign manufacturers and also making intense relentless efforts to increase the production and supply of ‘make in India’ vaccines.
He also noted that any significant adverse effect is unlikely if the second dose of a different COVID-19 vaccine is administered, but reaching a firm opinion on this will need more scrutiny and understanding.
He, however, clarified that both doses administered to an individual should be of the same vaccine as per the existing protocol.
On whether there is a need for antigen testing after getting vaccinated as tests on some people who have taken both the doses showed no antibodies in their bodies, Paul said there is no need for an antibody test after taking COVID-19 vaccine.
“Antibody is just one measure of immunity. Perhaps in the medium to long term, it is cell mediated immune response which is more critical and important. Antibody presence is only one measure. Also antibodies decline by time and they also come up not just specific to vaccines but also based on individual predilections.
“So when vaccines are administered on a large scale as a large public health response, an attempt is being made to create an overall situation so that as a community and individually we are protected. But individually we are not protected 100 per cent,” he said.
Paul said in a vaccination campaign where “we want to immunise everyone against a particular disease, take two doses. If there is a need for a booster dose it will be told. There are studies that are going on…Covaxin trial is going on… whether it should be taken after six months or not”.
On Pfizer seeking indemnity, Paul said, ''Yes we are engaged with Pfizer and they have indicated the availability of a certain amount of vaccine in the coming months, possibly starting in July and we are looking at what their expectations from the government are and they are looking at what our expectations from them are.
“They have requested indemnity to all the nations including the country of origin. We are examining this request and will take a decision in the larger interest of people and on merits. This is under discussion and there is no decision as of now,” Paul said.
In response to a question, Paul said it has been observed that vaccines developed in other countries a large part of those vaccines were supplied to the same country.
“So the US made vaccine went in a big way to the US and it is nothing surprising because when we look upon all vaccine manufacturers they also unhesitatingly offered the vaccines to our nation,” he said.
Paul said clearly the countries of origin have been an important priority for producers of vaccines.
On how vaccine doses has been given to Delhi, Agarwal said as per available data, Delhi has been given 45.46 lakh doses by the Government of India free of cost and under direct procurement, Delhi has procured 8.17 lakh and private hospitals have procured 9.04 lakh and a total 52.25 lakh doses have been administered so far. Responding to another question on the recent New York Times report on COVID-19 toll in India, Agarwal termed it “completely baseless” not backed by any evidence.