Is herd immunity going to be India’s saviour from the COVID-19 pandemic? Experts don’t think so in view of the new variants emerging from various places. AIIMS chief Dr. Randeep Guleria has dismissed the concept of herd immunity for coronavirus as a “myth” in India.
In an interview to NDTV on Saturday, he said herd immunity requires at least 80 per cent of the population to have antibodies to protect everyone, which would be difficult in view of the new strain found in Maharashtra, which is highly transmissible. He said the new variant causes people who have developed antibodies to the virus, get re-infected.
Maharashtra witnessed a sudden spike in new infections last week. The state’s COVID task force member Dr. Shashank Joshi had told the news channel 240 new strains of COVID-19 have emerged across India, which are behind the rising cases in the state.
Five states, also including Kerala, Punjab, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, recorded a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases over the last week. Maharashtra topped the list, accounting for more than 6,000 cases in the last 24 hours, as per an official statement on Saturday.
This comes amid the world’s largest vaccination drive, being carried out in the country. The inoculation plan depends on the herd immunity theory where it seeks to immunise a critical group of people – in the first phase, it were health and frontline workers and in the second, it will be those above 50 years age or having co-morbidities.
Dr. Guleria, the director of AIIMS, explained that the mutation of a virus provides an “immune escape mechanism” due to which the immunity achieved through vaccination may fail and even the vaccinated person may contract the infection again. He clarified that the vaccinations will be effective against the new strains, but their efficacy might be less.
Stating that COVID-appropriate behaviour is of utmost necessity, he said aggressive measures like testing, contact tracing and isolation infections need to be brought back. He also stated that vaccines are a must.