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Thursday, September 16, 2021

Priority should be to nudge people to remain vigilant and complete this year’s Covid vaccination target

Fifty per cent Indians getting at least one shot of Covid vaccine is a significant milestone. There is still need to unlock carefully.

By: Editorial |
Updated: August 30, 2021 9:46:18 am
Official data show that 99 per cent healthcare workers have received the first jab and 83 per cent are fully vaccinated.

Last week as the country crossed 60-crore cumulative vaccinations, it reached a significant milestone in its Covid inoculation drive. More than 50 per cent adult Indians have received at least one shot of the vaccine. Official data show that 99 per cent healthcare workers have received the first jab and 83 per cent are fully vaccinated. Nearly 80 per cent frontline workers have received both the shots. In conjunction with the serosurvey results that indicated two-thirds of people in the country have antibodies against the coronavirus, the vaccination data is cause for optimism at a time when medical experts are warning of a possible third wave. These developments are likely to give a fillip to the post-second wave opening-up underway in several parts of the country and inform plans of state governments to resume physical classes in educational institutions. There can be scarcely any doubt on the need for people to emerge from the pandemic-imposed shells. At the same time, however, there is also abundant reason to suggest that necessary caveats be built into the un-lockdown measures. The temptation to assume pre-Covid normalcy should be stoutly resisted.

The government has asked states to speed up the administration of the second shots — a salient advisory given the well-established fact that two shots provide the maximum protection against the virus. The first shot prepares the immune system to build antibodies. But these antibodies are known to wane after a few months. After the second jab, the body produces a stronger immune response because it now has substantial T cells that identify the pathogen. However, there is much that is unknown about the virus’s behaviour and the recent spurt in breakthrough infections in different parts of the world suggests that even two doses of the current crop of vaccines may not provide the protection they were earlier believed to offer. The ICMR has, in fact, been alive to this exigency. It has repeatedly underlined that the vaccines are “disease modifying” — they reduce the severity of Covid – but not always “disease preventing”. The premier medical research agency’s counsel — and that of other experts — on observing Covid-appropriate behaviour is even more prescient at a time when masks are making a comeback in the public health discourse of countries that dispensed with this anti-Covid measure earlier this year. The US Centers for Disease Control, for instance, has reversed its earlier advisory and asked people to wear masks in public indoor spaces in areas where the virus is surging.

Several countries are now planning to administer booster shots to people in 2022 to enhance their immunity against the virus. Policymakers in India are not impervious to this discourse. In keeping the virus at bay, the priority should be to nudge people to remain vigilant — not waver from Covid-appropriate behaviour — as well as complete this year’s vaccination targets.

This editorial first appeared in the print edition on August 30, 2021 under the title ‘Optimism & caution ‘.

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