Experts see 3rd COVID wave in October, but it'll be better controlled
Even as the second COVID wave is abating, having already taken in its wake thousands of lives across the country, experts are warning of a third wave around October. The third wave, however, will be better controlled, they say.
The experts have also said that the threat of the pandemic will linger on for at least another year.
Medical experts from around the world said a significant pickup in vaccinations will likely provide some cover to a fresh outbreak, according to a Reuters poll.
The global survey, conducted from June 3 to 17, quizzed healthcare specialists, doctors, scientists, virologists, epidemiologists and professors. Of those who stepped forward to predict, over 85% of the respondents, or 21 of 24, said the next wave will hit by October, including three who forecast it as early as August and 12 in September. The remaining three placed the third attack between November and February.
But over 70% of the experts, or 24 of 34, said any new outbreak would be better controlled compared with the current one, which has been far more devastating — with a shortage of vaccines, medicines, medical oxygen and hospital beds — than the ‘smaller’ first surge last year.
“It will be more controlled, as cases will be much less because more vaccinations will have been rolled out and there would be some degree of natural immunity from the second wave,” said Dr Randeep Guleria, Director at the All India Institute Of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in New Delhi.
India has fully vaccinated about 5% of its estimated 95 crore eligible population. While a majority of healthcare experts predicted the vaccination drive would pick up significantly this year, they cautioned against an early removal of restrictions, as some states have done.
When asked if children and those under 18 years would be most at risk in a potential third wave, nearly two-thirds of experts, or 26 of 40, said yes.
“The reason being they are a completely virgin population in terms of vaccination because currently there is no vaccine available for them,” said Dr Pradeep Banandur, head of the epidemiology department at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS).
Experts warn the situation could become severe.
“If children get infected in large numbers and we are not prepared, there is nothing you can do at the last minute,” said Dr Devi Shetty of Narayana Health, who is also an advisor to the Karnataka government on pandemic response planning. “It will be a whole different problem as the country has very, very few paediatric intensive care unit beds, and that is going to be a disaster.”
But 14 experts in the survey said children were not at risk.
While 25 of 38 respondents said future coronavirus variants would not make existing vaccines ineffective, in response to a separate question, 30 of 41 experts said the coronavirus will remain a public health threat in India for at least a year.
Eleven experts said the threat would remain for under a year, 15 said for under two years, while 13 said over two years and two said the risks will never go away.
“COVID is a solvable problem, as obviously it was easy to get a solvable vaccine. In two years, India likely will develop herd immunity through vaccine and exposure to the disease,” said Robert Gallo, director of the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland, and international scientific advisor, Global Virus Network.