India is unlikely to see a COVID wave like the devastating second one unless there is a new immune escaping variant but the lower number of cases does not necessarily mean the pandemic is now endemic, several experts said on Friday.
Giving hope and also injecting a note of caution as the festive season peaks with Deepavali just days ahead, they said a dipping COVID graph is only part of the picture and pointed to factors such as the mortality rate, the need for a larger vaccination cover and examples of countries such as the UK where numbers are again rising.
A day after India reached the milestone of 100 crore doses, virologist Shahid Jameel said vaccination rates have improved significantly but more needs to be done. “I am not sure we are in the endemic state yet… As we celebrate this (100 crores) landmark, there is still some distance to go. We are going towards endemicity, but are not there yet,” Jameel, a visiting professor at Ashoka University in Haryana, said. Jameel, one of India’s best-known virologists, also pointed out that the mortality rate in the country remains steady at about 1.2 per cent.
“This tells me that the vaccine coverage in India still needs to increase,” he added. “There have been some confusing claims about this recently… Low cases for some time do not necessarily mean endemicity. It is possible that endemicity is close in some parts of the country, but the data needed to confirm this is not easily available,” added Murad Banaji, senior lecturer in mathematics at UK’s Middlesex University who has been closely tracking India’s COVID graph and has done several model studies.
Epidemiologist Ramanan Laxminaryan concurred, saying there can be periodic flare-ups even with an endemic disease as is being observed in the UK. “I believe we should wait for another two months before determining whether COVID poses a significant future threat to the country,” Laxminarayan, director of the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy in Washington, said.