The most recent COVID wave in India has questioned the efficacy of the two vaccines — AstraZeneca’s Covishield and Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin — being administered as part of the ongoing inoculation drive, according to Dr. S.P. Byotra, the vice chairman of Delhi’s COVID-designated Sir Ganga Ram Hospital.
“A major reason why we are witnessing such a surge in infection is because of the mutations in the virus. There have been three different major variants, namely the Brazilian, South African and the United Kingdom variant,” Dr. Byotra told Sputnik on Monday.
Dr. Byotra explained that the mutated virus' behaviour is “more unpredictable,” which may be why questions are being raised on the effectiveness of the vaccines.
“The mutation of the virus possibly makes it more infectious. However, we have to wait till studies conclude to arrive at any definite conclusions,” he said.
He, however, stated that the authorities have no other option than to vaccinate the people. "We have limited options. Until we have more vaccine candidates, we have to carry on with the available ones," he said.
India’s federal Health Ministry has ruled out the possibility of the mutated COVID virus reducing the effectiveness of the COVID vaccines. However, several international reports have found increasing evidence that the mutant virus has the ability to “neutralise” the vaccine.
“It is concerning that emerging variants of SARS-CoV-2 can evade neutralising antibodies induced by previous infection or vaccination through mutations in the spike protein, including the receptor-binding domain (RBD),” said a Lancet study published on 7 April. The participants of the study were jabbed with Pzifer-BioNtech shots.
India’s National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) Director S.K. Singh said at a federal Health Ministry press briefing that 771 different COVID variants of concern (VOC) found in 18 different states were being currently investigated in India.
Public Gatherings Must be Banned, People Should be Vigilant
In the face of “some evidence” about the vaccines' effectiveness, Dr. Byotra said that Indians must not let down their guard even after they've been vaccinated.
"Another major factor that could be contributing to these rising infections is because people are too relaxed and not taking the virus seriously. There have been political, religious, cultural and entertainment gatherings," the Indian doctor said, and highlighted the role of people practising "social and personal hygiene" to check the spread of COVID.
“The masks should always be on. Public gatherings must be avoided. The must be banned altogether. People must try to remain indoors as much as possible, unless they really have to step out,” he advised.
He explained that political events such as the ongoing farmers' protests and election rallies in the poll bound states of West Bengal, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu among have fuelled the spread of COVID.
“Public gatherings are where people become more prone to the virus. They must be banned, or avoided,” he argued.
Religious and political gatherings in India have also come under increasing scrutiny amid rising infections.
While many Indian states have imposed restrictions and night curfews to halt the spread of the virus, the authorities have to date ruled out another blanket lockdown and ban on inter-state movement, like last year.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, after a meeting with the state chiefs on the country’s COVID situation, said on 8 April that more emphasis must be put on testing rather than vaccination, as he called for creating “micro-containment” zones as opposed to a complete lockdown.
“Today, the problem is that we have forgotten about COVID19 testing and have moved to vaccination. We have to remember that we had won the fight against COVID19 without a vaccine," he pointed out on Sunday.