Video | Omicron COVID Variant: Is India Ready? Expert Answers Your FAQs
We're still in the early stages of getting to know the variant, but how much information do we have so far about omicron?
Can we predict how it will behave down the line?
What should India's pandemic strategy be going forth?
Should India start rolling out COVID vaccine booster shots?
To address these questions and answer your FAQs, FIT went LIVE with Dr K Srinath Reddy, epidemiologist and President of Public Health Foundation of India.
Below are excerpts from the LIVE Q&A session.
What makes Omicron a variant of concern?
Dr Reddy: We have alot of experience with Delta and other variants, but the omicron variant has alot more mutations on the spike proteins. Having more mutations on the spike protein confers a great advantage to it. It is able to attach itself much more firmly to the human cells.
The major defence that exists in our bloodstream (antibodies) may actually be bypassed by this variant and that is a matter of concern.
But we have to wait for more studies to be done in this area.
What precautions should we take to prevent being infected with Omicron?
Dr Reddy: We know that the vaccines we take do not prevent infections per se. They only prevent disease and death.
Masks, proper ventilation, and hand hygiene are critical. Also if you avoid superspreader events, then we can avoid the transmission risk.
Are we looking at the possibility of another lockdown?
Dr Reddy: Unless we see a number of serious cases who are requiring hospitalisation, or even deaths, there is no rational now for a lockdown.
The initial need for the lockdown arose because we wanted to prepare ourselves for a virus that was challenging our healthcare systems. But now we have a health system that is better primed and a population which is more immune.
So, there is no logic behind another lockdown, or even travel restrictions.
Should India start rolling out booster doses?
Dr Reddy: At the moment, booster doses may be required for immunocompromised people, elderly people, or people on immunosuppressant drugs. They are the vulnerable groups.
Whether everyone requires a booster dose is debatable at this point in time.
In India we have had a substantial exposure to the delta variant in the second wave, and therefore, the immunity created against the delta variant would carry over, to some extent to this variant as well.
For time time being we need to study how much of our existing immunity, particularly of our vaccines, is working against this new variant.
Should India consider reduce the gap between the first two doses of the vaccine?
Dr Reddy: The original trials were done with a gap of 4 weeks. Later laboritary tests in the UK on the AstraZeneca vaccine showed that the vaccine elicited better response after 12 weeks.
The same UK policy was adopted by India and applied to Covishield. There is some question about whether 12 - 14 weeks is the right policy or 8 - 12 weeks is the right policy.
For Omicron, which is causing a mild illness in the first place, as far as we know, and when we know the variant is capable of evading some of the antibodies that is created against the spike protein, whether we can really gain any advantage by reducing the dosage interval is not known.
Yes, if we possibly give it between 8 to 12 weeks, we may possibly be able to protect some of the immunocompromised people a little more. But right now, we are not sure of that measure having a benefit in terms of proven evidence.
Two vaccines, Zydus Cadilla and Covaxin have been approved for children, and yet, neither have been rolled out yet. What could be causing the hold up? Do we need to start vaccinating children at this point?
Dr Reddy: Till the time we know that children are not getting severe symptoms, we need not be worried.
As far as vaccination for children is concerned, many trials are showing that they are beneficial and safe, and it's possible that when we have enough number of vaccines, we'll also start vaccination children.
But right now, with the supplies that we have, we need to focus on giving every adult two doses and then start prioritising those who are immunocompromised, and have a greater risk of exposure, like healthcare workers for booster doses.
Would someone infected with the omicron variant need a differential treatment?
Dr Reddy: Right now, nothing. It's just like a thief entering your home. This is a thief that is more capable of entering your home. But once the thief is caught, the trial and punishment is the same.
So the treatment is still essentially is whatever has been trialed against the virus.
Treatment options include, steroid drugs that may help reduce the severity of the symptoms, there are also antiviral drugs that have proved to be partly effective in curbing viral replication.
If the illness is mild, home care is what we really require, and many may not need treatment at all, except symptomatic treatment.
Right now there is no differential treatment for the Omicron variant specifically.
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