“It might be a mild disease. It is possibly being observed in some countries such as South Africa that the gap between the infection and the manifestation of the disease is a little longer. And when it is longer than the Delta virus, it is likely to be transmitting and infecting more and more people. Now in case, the transmission rate is high, but its killing power is low, then it can transmit and generate immunity among the people,” said Executive Director, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Bibinagar, Dr Vikas Bhatia
Though the world awaits more information on the new COVID variant Omicron, India should be prepared to fight a possible “third wave”, which may be caused by the emerging variant keeping in mind its high transmissibility but possibly low fatality, according to a health expert.
Speaking to ANI on Saturday, Executive Director, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Bibinagar, Dr Vikas Bhatia, talking about the helpfulness of the Hybrid immunity in the possible wave, said: “It is very difficult to predict because, and even at this point of time when more than 30 countries have reported one or more cases, we are still waiting for some more information. So, in this phase, we should be preparing ourselves that a third wave may come but at the same time, it may be good news in case we find that this particular virus Omicron is not very fatal. So far no death has been reported from any part of the world.”
“It might be a mild disease. It is possibly being observed in some countries such as South Africa that the gap between the infection and the manifestation of the disease is a little longer. And when it is longer than the Delta virus, it is likely to be transmitting and infecting more and more people. Now in case, the transmission rate is high, but its killing power is low, then it can transmit and generate immunity among the people,” he added.
Dr Bhatia said that if oxygen levels decline due to Omicron variant, then that would be a concern but he believes that due to the ongoing nationwide vaccination programme, it should not be a problem.
“Decline in the oxygen levels and the case fatality rates, they are our main concern. If those concern us more, we should not be bothering too much about the transmission of the disease. Because the vaccination programme is also going on,” he said.
The Executive Director highlighted “Hybrid immunity” as “protection” against Omicron and said, “When we talk about hybrid in relation to the COVID it means we are talking about the immunity which has been acquired through the infection and immunity which has been acquired through the vaccination. When these two work together we call it a hybrid.”
Dr Bhatia explained further, “When these two work together we call it a hybrid. So, hybrid immunity is there because a large number of people have already been exposed to COVID. So, they have because of the disease which occurred to them, or which manifested or for some reason they were admitted or which we saw the results as a seroprevalence was positive who got this infection. They may have immunity against the COVID plus the vaccination which has also been going on since January. So, together it becomes hybrid immunity.”
The doctor said hybrid immunity in India is very high which has “better protection” against Omicron.
“The different surveys which have been done, this sero surveillance, they have given information that more than 70- 80 per cent of the population has already been exposed to the COVID infection, which means they have the antibodies in them. Simultaneously, we know that nearly 126 crore people until yesterday have also been vaccinated either with one dose or with two doses. So, it means that the hybrid immunity in India is very high. And the scientific evidence which has come forward is that people with the hybrid immunity have better protection against Omicron and COVID,” he said.
Talking about the threat posed to children by the new variant, Dr Bhatia said that the mortality rates in them will be negligible due to the good immunity and other factors and suggested to start the vaccination of the adolescent age group between 12 and 18 years.
“We observed in the beginning that the maximum number of deaths were taking place in the elderly patients because of comorbidities and because of the low immunity with age. So that was the focus area, you know. The vaccination started from that age group 60 plus then 45 onwards, and then the age group was increased from 18 years onwards. Because of the good immunity and other factors, the mortality rates will be very low or in fact very negligible among the children,” he said.
“Government of India is already in principle discussing these areas and there is a strong possibility that the government may start the vaccination of the children particularly in the adolescent age group between the 12 years and 18 years. So, some of the work is going on. We are just waiting for the policy decision by the government but it should be considered for the children as well,” he added.
A decision on the booster dose and jabs for children will be taken on the basis of scientific evidence, Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya told Parliament on Friday.
Mandaviya’s statement comes a day after the Indian SarsCov-2 Genomic Sequencing Consortium (INSACOG) suggested a booster dose be given to those above 40 with high risk.
Mandaviya also talked about the steps being taken to tackle Omicron fears. He told the Lok Sabha that RTPCR tests of 16,000 passengers from “at-risk” countries had been conducted so far. Of those 18 have tested positive. The minister added the decision on the booster dose could either be “scientific” or “political”.
“Our scientists and expert group will guide us,” he said\
The central government on Saturday wrote to five states – Odisha, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Mizoram– and Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir and expressed concern over a rapid increase in daily Covid cases and mortality rate and also underlined the danger posed by the Omicron variant.
India reported one more Omicron case in Maharashtra after 2 two cases reported in Karnataka and one Gujarat..
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization’s chief scientist told the Reuters Next conference on Friday the Omicron variant could become dominant because it is highly transmissible, but that a different vaccine may not be needed.
Soumya Swaminathan also said it was too early to say whether Omicron is milder than other variants of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 and cast doubt over its origin, saying it was far from certain it emerged in southern Africa.
“It is possible that it could become (the) dominant variant,” Swaminathan said, adding that it was however impossible to predict. The Delta variant now accounts for 99% of infections globally, she said.
Scientists in the European Union and Australia are forecasting that Omicron may account for more infections than Delta within a few months. read more
She said Omicron “was highly transmissible” and cited data from South Africa showing the number of cases doubling daily.
“How worried should we be? We need to be prepared and cautious, not panic, because we’re in a different situation to a year ago,” Swaminathan said in an interview.
She said the WHO could not at this stage say that Omicron was a mild variant, even if many infections so far have been associated with less severe symptoms or no symptoms at all.
There is not yet conclusive evidence about Omicron’s impact on the effectiveness of antibodies.
“It does seem to be able to overcome some of the natural immunity from previous infection,” the world health body’s top scientist said, but added that vaccines did seem to be having an effect.
“The fact that they’re not getting sick … that means the vaccines are still providing protection and we would hope that they would continue to provide protection,” Swaminathan said.
VACCINE AGAINST ALL CORONAVIRUSES?
Swaminathan was cautious about the need to upgrade existing vaccines, noting that a booster of existing shots might be enough against Omicron.
“It’s possible that the vaccines will work. It’s possible that you may need initially an extra dose to boost immune response,” she said.
A WHO technical advisory group is trying to work out if a new type of vaccine be needed against Omicron, she added.
Speaking to Reuters Next earlier in the day, BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin said his company would be able to adapt its vaccine relatively quickly in response to Omicron and the next few weeks would show how urgently an upgrade was needed.
“I believe in principle at a certain timepoint we will need a new vaccine against this new variant,” Sahin said.
Asked about the need for annual vaccine boosters, Swaminathan said “the WHO is preparing for all scenarios”, which could include an additional dose, particularly among some age groups or vulnerable sections of the population.
But she added: “Natural infection acts as a booster.”
Swaminathan, a qualified paediatrician from India, raised doubts about the origin of the new variant, which was first detected in southern Africa, where the highest number of cases is also being recorded.
“Where did it originate? We don’t know,” she said noting it could have originated in countries which do not have enough genomic sequencing.
“We may never know.”
Flight bans by some countries targeting southern Africa were unfair, Swaminathan said, adding that the variant had been identified in South Africa “because of the excellent genomic sequencing and surveillance” there.
“We feel terrible that they have been punished for it.”
The WHO has said travel curbs can buy time but are not the way to fight the Omicron variant, urging countries to boost healthcare capacity and vaccinate their populations. read more
Swaminathan also urged more equity in the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and tests.
Asked whether the Omicron variant may not have emerged if Africa had received and administered more vaccines, she said: “Absolutely.”
“There is a clear relationship between inequity in access to vaccines and the development of variants,” Swaminathan said.