Mass testing, screening and isolation along with social vaccine the only ways to contain COVID-19

Mass testing, screening and isolation of positive patients, along with compliance to ‘social vaccine’ of masks, personal hygiene and social distancing, is the only way forward to contain the raging COVID-19 pandemic, insist top scientists.

“This much is certain; we are nowhere close to the end of the pandemic, We do not know when we are going to cross the peak, There are theoretical models but in the absence of reliable data, we cannot bank on them. Peak or plateau will come only when we do something about it,” says CSIR- CCMB Director Rakesh Mishra.

Indians are “lucky” because the virus has spared many lives and most are asymptomatic, needing no hospitalisation. Yet, “if we allow things to drift as is happening now, the situation could get worse and what we do not want to happen is to get the hospitals crowded beyond capacity putting the healthcare system under more pressure,” he points out, in an exclusive interview.

We should consider ourselves “extremely lucky” if we get the vaccine by the year-end or early next year. But, our preparation should be to deal with the virus without vaccine as there is no drug available. It could also take up to two years for the entire population to be covered, he explains.

“Any vaccine is not a sure shot. Most candidates are early experiments that are done in-vitro and on animals. When it reaches the people. it is a different story. Efficacy and robustness depend on how many people can get protection from infection irrespective of different age groups and health conditions. Unlike a drug that can go and hit the target, a vaccine needs to work through the immune system of the body and comes with a different level of complexity,” says the director.

“Never before so much money and effort has been put into making a vaccine against one infectious agent at a time. Regulatory authorities could also facilitate by relaxing rules due to the pandemic; for example, by combining two stages (Phase 1 and 2) to save time if they find it to be safe. But, how good a vaccine works, only time will tell. The fastest vaccine, so far, has come in four years and, therefore, talking about a few months is a bit ambitious. However, we can’t rule it out and there is no harm in giving our luck a chance,” he says.

Dr. Mishra says the major issue in knowing about a vaccine is that “you just wait after vaccination to see that a person does not get infected for a long time. It is very difficult to check for efficacy and robustness in the population in few months and requires long term monitoring. A short cut could expose the volunteers to active infection; it is unethical as there is no drug to give if the person does get infected.”

The CCMB director is sure we will eventually get back to some kind of “normalcy or new normalcy” in a few months with “some kind of herd immunity and some drugs helping the balance”. However, it has become imperative to strengthen public healthcare for a large population. “It is clear we cannot have private medicare at a cost within the reach of 10% population, ignoring the weaker sections. No one is safe unless the entire population is taken care of as has been evident in last few months,” he adds.



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