COVID third wave: TN placed well but western districts need attention

Some districts have reintroduced restrictions while there is still scope to increase pace of vaccination

COVID-19
An increased seropositivity rate in Tamil Nadu indicates a good number of people have developed antibodies against coronavirus, but that should not make the administration complacent as western districts such as Coimbatore, Tiruppur, Erode and Namakkal still show a seropositivity rate of less than 50 percent.

Tamil Nadu has a seropositivity rate of 66.2 per cent, which shows the state is in a better position to tackle the COVID third wave, if at all it happens.

The recent serosurvey revealed that the state’s seropositivity rate (proportion of positive tests among those tested) has increased manifold when compared with October-November 2020 (31 per cent) and April 2021 (29 per cent).

An increased seropositivity rate in Tamil Nadu indicates a good number of people have developed antibodies against coronavirus, but that should not make the administration complacent as western districts such as Coimbatore, Tiruppur, Erode and Namakkal still show a lower seropositivity rate (less than 50 percent). While Virudhunagar district has the highest seropositivity rate of 84 percent, Erode has the lowest at 37 percent.

It is pertinent to note that the antibodies can go up either through natural infection or post-vaccination.

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Meanwhile, due to sudden increase in positive cases in the last couple of weeks, districts like Coimbatore and Tiruppur have brought in time restrictions for commercial establishments. The state health department has sent out an order stating that people coming from Kerala should carry a negative RT-PCR certificate to enter Tamil Nadu. Earlier this month, chief minister MK Stalin too warned against complacency and asked people not to push the state government to a point where it has to invoke another lockdown.

At this outset, The Federal spoke to some doctors and health officials to gauge the situation now and the state’s preparedness for a possible third wave.

“It is good that some districts have reintroduced COVID restrictions, but that alone cannot prevent the people from getting infected. The government should intensify the vaccination drive. It should also be prepared to tackle dengue in view of the ongoing rainy season,” said Erode-based Dr. C.N. Raja, who is also the state president of Indian Medical Association.

Dr. Raja also expects the state government to clarify its stand on private hospitals’ share while allocating vaccines. “There are some reports suggesting it will be 10 percent while others claim it will be 25 percent,” he said.

Also read: Amid national concern, Kerala health minister says there’s nothing to worry

Dr. G.R. Ravindranath, general secretary of Doctors Association for Social Equality, said there could be two reasons why the western districts have low seropositivity. One, the people in those districts wouldn’t have contracted the virus so far and two, they are yet to take the jab. So they don’t have antibodies.

“People in these districts must get vaccinated as early as possible. At least they should get a single dose. Also, once the Centre gives permission, the vaccination of children must be taken up in full swing,” he said.

Since the second wave was huge with a lot of impact, even villages have shown a high seropositivity rate. People infected during the second wave will have antibodies for the next four to six months. So, the chances of a third wave are bleak, said Dr. K. Senthil, president of Tamil Nadu Government Doctors’ Association.

“If we assume that on an average about 50 to 60 percent of the population has already been infected and another 20 to 30 percent have been vaccinated, we will have antibodies in at least 70 to 75 percent of the population. Herd immunity of 70 to 75 percent means the ‘R nought’ for the COVID virus is 2.5 to 3. So the remaining 30 percent of the population would be saved from getting affected. By this we can hope that at least for the next six months, there will be no new wave,” Dr. Senthil concluded.

However, high prevalence rate in Kerala means the border areas of Tamil Nadu are still susceptible, so the government should insist on swab tests, he added.

Former Director of Public Health Dr. K. Kolandasamy said a good number of senior citizens, pregnant women and lactating mothers are still hesitant in taking the vaccine.

“Other than promoting vaccination aggressively, the government should shut down big commercial establishments like shopping malls if they do not have proper ventilation. Still people are not realising that the virus spreads fast in closed environments,” he said.

When asked about the possibility of COVID in children, Kolandasamy said that children should be monitored for at least two months after their recovery.

“Even now children are getting infected. However, the virus is not causing much damage to them. Since they are already in a lockdown condition and confined to their homes, they can be easily protected,” he said.

Talking to The Federal, Dr. T.S. Selvavinayagam, Director of Public Health, said intensifying the usual strategies, close monitoring and introduction of additional interventions and extra doses of vaccines will be carried out in the districts where seropositivity rate is low.

“With regards to treating children, we have already trained the staff and we have sufficient beds and medicines. We will take steps if cases start emerging,” he said.

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