A third wave of coronavirus infections is expected to hit India by October, and although it is better controlled than the last outbreak, the pandemic will remain a public health threat for at least a year, according to a poll by medical experts from a Reuters news agency.
The instantaneous survey from June 3 to 17 of 40 health specialists, doctors, scientists, virologists, epidemiologists and professors around the world showed that a significant increase in vaccinations would likely provide cover for a new epidemic.
Among those who dared to make a prediction, at least 85% of respondents, or 21 out of 24, said the next wave would strike in October, with three predicting it as early as August and 12 in September. The other three said between November and February.
But more than 70% of experts, or 24 of 34, said any new outbreak would be better controlled than the current one, which has been much more devastating – with shortages of vaccines, drugs, oxygen and hospital beds – only the first smaller. increased infections last year.
“It will be more controlled, because the cases will be much fewer because more vaccinations would have been deployed and there would be some degree of natural second wave immunity,” said Dr Randeep Guleria, director of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences. (AIIMS).
So far, India has only fully vaccinated around five percent of its estimated eligible population of 950 million, leaving several million people vulnerable to infections and death.
While a majority of health experts predicted the vaccination campaign would resume significantly this year, they cautioned against removing restrictions early, as some states have.
When asked if children and under-18s would be most at risk in a potential third wave, nearly two-thirds of the experts, or 26 out of 40, said yes.
“The reason is that this is a completely virgin population in terms of vaccination as there is currently no vaccine available for them,” said Dr Pradeep Banandur, head of the epidemiology department at the ‘National Institute of Mental Health and Neuroscience (NIMHANS).
Experts warn the situation could get serious.
“If the children are infected in large numbers and we are not prepared, there is nothing you can do at the last minute,” said Dr Devi Shetty, cardiologist at Narayana Health and Karnataka State Government Advisor on pandemic response planning.
“It will be a whole other problem because the country has very, very few pediatric intensive care unit beds, and it will be a disaster.”
But 14 experts said the children were not at risk.
Earlier this week, a senior health ministry official said children were vulnerable and susceptible to infections, but this analysis showed a less severe impact on health.
While 25 of 38 respondents said future variants of the coronavirus would not render existing vaccines ineffective, in response to a separate question, 30 of 41 experts said the coronavirus would remain a threat to public health in India for at least less than a year.
“COVID-19 is a soluble problem because it was obviously easy to get a soluble vaccine. In two years, India will likely develop herd immunity from the vaccine and exposure to the disease, ”said Robert Gallo, director of the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland and international scientific adviser, Global Virus Network.