Why it is not wise to let the guard down just yet?

Dr Gogtay has been closely associated with the company for nearly 25 years now. He has been closely involved in the development and introduction of several drugs in various therapeutic fields, particularly in HIV/AIDS, infectious diseases and respiratory diseases.

Dr Jaideep A Gogtay
Dr Jaideep A Gogtay, Global Chief Medical Officer at Cipla.

Dr Jaideep A Gogtay, Global Chief Medical Officer at Cipla, one of India’s leading pharma companies with a long history and some incredible firsts in the generics space and solutions that have greatly enhanced access to some of the critical medicines.

Dr Gogtay has been closely associated with the company for nearly 25 years now. He has been closely involved in the development and introduction of several drugs in various therapeutic fields, particularly in HIV/AIDS, infectious diseases and respiratory diseases. He has worked on several clinical trials in the field of asthma, COPD and infectious diseases. He was a key member of the team which introduced several antiretroviral drugs for the treatment of AIDS including the 1$ a day triple drug cocktail.

He took time out from his busy schedule for an interview to Financial Express Online. Here are the Excerpts:

What is your reading of the current uptick in covid cases in some regions?

Mutation in viruses is neither a new concept, nor is it unexpected. It is the nature of RNA viruses to evolve and change gradually. These adaptive mutations alter the virus’s pathological potential and define its levels of transmission. The recently reported Omicron variant has about eight subtypes and the World Health Organisation (WHO) is continuously tracking several other subtypes of the original Omicron BA.1 (BA.4 and BA.5), BA.2 variants, as well as BA.1.1 and BA.3. However, there is little information known about the transmissibility or immune escape potential of the variant.

Hence, we cannot ascertain if the spike in COVID cases is because of the emergence of newer variants. Also, with state governments relaxing COVID norms, it is possible that the transmission could have increased for a particular time. That said, we must not let our guard down. Everyone should follow COVID appropriate behaviour and mask up.

How far can current vaccines work on the new variants and what needs to be done in terms of vaccine development?

The information available currently strongly proves that the original COVID-19 vaccines remain protective against serious illnesses, hospitalization and death, especially after the booster dose. Making a vaccine for a particular variant is not feasible, since the next mutation might be completely unrelated to the present one.

Vaccine manufacturing companies across the world are working on combinations that target the mutations happening till date and the further mutations that can arise. It is hard to predict if the next mutation will increase or decrease the intrinsic virulence of the virus or the severity. Therefore, it is strongly recommended that people continue following COVID protocols and make sure they are vaccinated with at least two doses.

Who is more susceptible to getting long COVID? How serious is the problem of long COVID?

Although the symptoms of long COVID differ from person to person, the most common symptoms include fatigue, shortness of breath, cough, headaches, and cognitive dysfunction.  Some severe cases have also experienced brain fog, palpitations, and chest pain. Some doctors have even reported life limiting complications like pulmonary fibrosis and strokes in patients, but they are highly uncommon.

People across all ages and with varying degrees of infection can develop long COVID. It is seen more often in people who had more severe disease and other medical conditions like high blood pressure, obesity, and an immunosuppressive condition. Patients generally hospitalized for hypoxia – a state where the brain does not receive sufficient oxygen supply also develop long COVID symptoms.

Although a certain set of individuals can have high risk factors, they may not necessarily be prone to getting long COVID. It has been observed that in some cases, patients develop diabetes and high blood pressure after COVID. However, there is no factual data to indicate this has developed because of COVID-19 or people themselves had only discovered this existing condition post-COVID.

Can the vaccine against COVID help with long COVID?

There has been indicative unconfirmed data that if you are fully vaccinated and you get infected with COVID-19, there is a lower chance of developing long COVID.

Is there a high possibility of long COVID after contracting Omicron?

The lasting effects of long COVID generally stay for about three months. Taking into consideration that Omicron is a newer variant, with lesser information available on the same, it would be difficult to ascertain this at the moment. There is also no valid research available currently to support this claim.

What are some preventive measures one should take to address long COVID symptoms?

There is no clear way of preventing long COVID. Getting fully vaccinated, reducing the severity of disease with early treatment to prevent hospitalization and controlling underlying pre-existing medical conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure could help. Patients who develop long covid need rehabilitation, especially if they are elderly and have gone through severe COVID.  

People should focus on improving their immunity and staying healthy as a part of their daily routine. Reports also suggest that good nutrition with lifestyle modifications could reduce the burden of long COVID. Furthermore, multivitamins and mineral supplements can be added for the time being to correct any nutritional deficiencies.

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