At a time, when we seem to have been able to have got a cover against severe disease and death due to COVID, the problem of viral transmission still remains. Even those vaccinated are prone to getting the virus and this has been happening. However, none of the vaccines used so far in India have been redesigned and adapted to newer variants like the Omicron and its sub-lineages.
On the concerns on the effectiveness of the vaccines and the need for an ideal vaccine that can provide complete protection, Dr Soumya Swaminathan in an exclusive interview to Financial Express Online, says, “the effectiveness data that’s available shows that while protection against severe disease is maintained after a third dose of vaccine (homologous or heterologous), protection against infection declines within 12 to 16 weeks. This means that vaccinated individuals can develop COVID infections, but the majority of cases will not be severe.”
She says that vaccine effectiveness studies have been conducted mostly in high income countries with the 3 or 4 most commonly used vaccines.” She now says, “there is an urgent need for data from countries like India to understand the duration of protection in individuals with 2 or 3 doses of vaccines among different age groups and in individuals with underlying illnesses. This type of information is needed to develop policies for the future on the need for additional doses, if at all, and to identify the risk groups and timing of such doses.”
However, on the need to a fourth vaccine dose, she says. “the need for additional doses will be driven by the data being generated now. Some companies are making vaccines which incorporate the Omicron variant – we still need clinical effectiveness data to determine if boosters using these variant-adapted vaccines will have any advantage over existing ones. Ultimately, a vaccine that targets conserved proteins of the coronavirus and elicits broadly protective immunity (a so-called pancoronavirus vaccine) will be the solution.”
The mantra at the moment, she says, is to “stay alert, adjust public health measures based on local epidemiology, continue surveillance, sequencing and look out for new variants, strengthen health systems especially workforce, ensure high vaccination coverage and communicate often with the public about measures that are needed.” Coupled with this, Dr Soumya Swaminathan sees need for countries to “invest in research and development for vaccines, antivirals and diagnostics – also for future infectious disease outbreaks and implement a One Health program in the country.”