A very large number of Indians are likely to remain protected from ‘Omicron’ or any other variant of COVID-19 and there is no need to panic, said eminent virologist and former head of the advisory group to the Indian SARS-COV-2 Genomics Consortia (INASACOG) Dr. Shahid Jameel.
Jameel also said people must be cautious and keep wearing masks.
“While we should be cautious, there is no need to panic. India’s second wave due to the Delta variant was huge, infecting more people than we imagined. This is reflected in the fourth National Sero survey that showed 67 percent of Indians to have Covid antibodies. That is about 930-940 million people at a time when the vaccination levels were very low, and so it came mainly from infection,’” he told the leading news agency in an interview.
“More recently, Delhi showed 97 percent with antibodies, Mumbai around 85-90 percent, and so on. All this means that a very large fraction of Indians will be protected from severe disease caused by Omicron or any other variant,” Jameel said.
While speaking on the effectiveness of vaccines against the new variant, Jameel said more data is awaited but vaccine effectiveness against the variant may dip by a few points. However, vaccines will not become useless, he said.
“We don’t have this data available yet. It may take another one to two weeks for the first laboratory results to become available. My hunch is that vaccine effectiveness against this variant may dip a few points, but vaccines will not become useless. They will continue to protect from severe disease,” he said.
Jameel said people should not panic, and continue to wear masks while the government should increase the rate of vaccination.
“We are fortunate to have sufficient vaccines and the ability to vaccinate. Along this line, it may help to reduce the duration between two doses of Covishield from 16 weeks to 12 weeks. This will get more people vaccinated quickly, especially those in vulnerable age groups (elderly), those with comorbidities, and those in high-risk occupations (health care),” he said.
Jameel said that booster shots help, but it is more important to first get more people vaccinated with two doses. “Further, about 90 percent of doses in India are Covishield, and this has limited use as a booster. For that, we will need either RNA, DNA, or protein vaccines. For the moment, just make sure more and more people get the two doses,” he said. “So far, the few known patients are in this age group. I doubt it will pose a bigger threat to children who naturally have no or mild disease to this virus,” Jameel said.