Covid-19: The battle ahead
The latest nationwide survey for Covid-19 antibodies suggests that two out of three Indians may have some form of protection from the coronavirus. The government’s senior experts said on Tuesday that the sample size of close to 29,000 people included people who did and did not receive a vaccine. Among the unvaccinated group, the prevalence of antibodies was 62%. Overall, including vaccine recipients, it was 67.6%. In contrast, in the last such study, from the same 70 districts, the prevalence rate was 24.1%. The jump is unsurprising since the earlier study was held prior to the devastating second wave of Covid-19 infections.
Such studies, known as seroprevalence surveys, carry several important caveats. First, can the study be extrapolated to estimate the overall spread of the virus in India? Both Balram Bhargava, the head of the Indian Council of Medical Research, and Niti Aayog member VK Paul cautioned that these numbers cannot be taken to fit a particular city or village — the study, they said, gives mostly an overall picture across the country. Second, does simply testing positive for antibodies mean protection? The answer is yes; antibodies do mean protection. Third, the longevity of antibodies, especially among those who were infected, is likely to wane in the next few months.
But there is another way of looking at the number. A rough extrapolation of the findings suggests 400 million people are still vulnerable — this number alone is higher than the population of the United States. The government rightly underlined this fact several times on Tuesday to appeal to people to remain careful and avoid any sort of gathering, whether social, religious or political. States that recently went ahead with allowing people to observe some festivities, or those that attempted to but were stopped by the Supreme Court, must pay particular attention. It is also crucial for authorities engaged in surveillance to keep a close watch on any changes in outbreak patterns. At present, many regions of the country are logging numbers last seen in February. That is when India became complacent. It must not make the same mistake again since this time, if it is able to drive up vaccination rates, the country may well be in the home stretch of the war against Covid-19.