As India grapples with a second wave of Covid-19 cases, Dr Randeep Guleria has been central to the country’s disease response. As head of clinical research group of the national Covid-19 task force, he is instrumental in framing treatment policies. In an Idea Exchange with The Indian Express, the AIIMS chief says vaccination will open up but “gradually”, advises caution over theories regarding re-infection, addresses the “Bihar paradox” when polls did not see a surge, and says approvals for vaccination in children must be fast-tracked.
“I think the numbers are worrying… Firstly, this wave is much steeper than what we have seen in the past. It has taken much less time to cross the 80,000 cases per day mark this time. Secondly, the degree of fear or panic that was there when we had crossed the 80,000-mark last time does not seem to exist today. There is no Covid-appropriate behaviour. Despite the numbers crossing the 80,000-mark, people are planning holidays, hotels are full at all hill stations. So that is worrying. We don’t have data which suggests that we have a good degree of immunity. A majority of our population is susceptible and we are also seeing new variants of the virus now, which we know can be more infectious. They can also develop ‘immune escape’, which may allow some degree of reinfections.”
Family and friends often call to know which of the two Covid-19 vaccines available in India is better. My advice to take whichever is easily available is met with apprehensions about adverse effects of vaccines. This is symptomatic of the past year, a year full of half-truths, false claims and often outright lies that became more viral than the virus itself. While it has been a remarkable year for science and the value it brought to society, there is little understanding of the scientific method, which relies on data and evidence.
As India approaches one year of its lockdown, I review the year gone by and attempt some cautious crystal gazing into what lies ahead.