‘Despite reduced efficacy against variants, it must continue’
While some of the COVID-19 vaccines have reported reduced efficacy against new variants of the SARS CoV-2 virus, they continue to remain effective in preventing severe illness, said Soumya Swaminathan, Chief Scientist, World Health Organization.
Delivering the 23rd Dr. S. Rangarajan Memorial Lecture, organised by Sundaram Medical Foundation through video conferencing on Friday, she said that vaccination must be continued to prevent severe illness, hospitalisation and death regardless of the variants.
Pointing out that 11 vaccines were used across the world against COVID-19, Dr. Soumya said that some of them had reported reduced efficacy against the new variants.
“However, clinical studies have shown that the majority of these vaccines are quite effective in at least preventing severe disease,” she said.
She said that new variants result in faster transmission and explosive growth in cases.
However, she said this did not mean that the virus had become more virulent. “People do not die because the virus is more virulent. But because the health systems cannot cope. People may not get the care they need and therefore they may die,” she said.
She spoke on the importance of keeping in mind equitable access right from the beginning of the development of vaccines.
Dr. Soumya cautioned against rampant and unnecessary use of antibiotics for COVID-19 patients. Highlighting that medications, such as Favipiravir and Ivermectin, were being prescribed, she said that antibiotics must be used only in case of certain kinds of pneumonia. She stressed on the need for continuous monitoring and proper clinical management instead of such avoidable medication, which she said may lull people into believing that they were getting better.
About Remdesivir, she said it had not proven to do anything for mortality, severity or reduction of hospitalisation. “In some cases, it has shown to reduce the disease by two days that too in situations where the patients were not too early or too late in the disease,” she said.
Comparing steps against tuberculosis and COVID-19, she highlighted the incredible scientific progress towards vaccines and diagnostics made in the last year for COVID-19, unlike other infectious diseases for which it might take several years for such advancements.
She said that while technologies such as genomic sequencing had greatly helped the fight against the pandemic, COVID-19 reiterated the need for strengthening conventional mechanisms to fight infectious diseases, such as having strong surveillance, primary healthcare systems and trained public health professionals. She highlighted the importance of global solidarity.
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