Mumbai: Experts suggest that the COVID-19 virus, just like Influenza, will subsequently reach its endemic stage, that is, it will always be present in a certain population or region. They added that mutations are normal, and there is nothing to panic about.
Dr Samiran Panda, head, Division of Epidemiology and Communicable Diseases, Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) said, "The COVID-19 virus will reach its endemic stage like Influenza after a while and then vulnerable population may have to take the vaccine shot annually." "Influenza, commonly known as flu, was a pandemic 100 years ago but today it is endemic. Similarly, in the case of COVID-19, we expect that it will gradually become endemic from its current state of being a pandemic. Currently, we recommend the elderly to take annual flu shots. As the influenza virus keeps on mutating, we simultaneously make minor changes in the vaccine. So, there is no need to panic," he added.
Clearing myths about vaccines, and whether breastfeeding mothers can take their COVID-19 vaccine shot, Dr Panda said, "Breastfeeding mothers should get themselves vaccinated against COVID-19 without any hesitation. The anti-bodies that are developed in the mother as a result of the vaccination get passively transferred to the baby while breastfeeding and could be helpful to the child." He said vaccines are absolutely safe for everyone, including people with normal allergies like asthma, dust allergy, allergy of pollen grains, and have gone through three phases of clinical trials.
"Patients with co-morbidities can take the vaccine if they are stable. It is advisable for people suffering from diabetes and other immuno-suppressed conditions to get vaccinated because they are at a higher risk," he said.
Addressing concerns whether Indian vaccines will be effective against the newer strains of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, Dr Panda said, "The vaccines available now largely are effective against the new variants. Vaccines are not infection preventing, but disease-modifying. Experiments at ICMR have proved that the vaccines presently available in India are effective against the new variants as well. However, the efficacy may differ for different strains." He urged all to take the vaccine available in the country now, rather than waiting for other vaccines that are available globally.
"Please understand that while people may be waiting for other vaccines which they may consider more convenient or superior, the virus is not waiting. The virus is still spreading in the country. What if you get infected, while you wait?" he said.
Dr. Panda said it is futile to go for anti-body tests as immunity does not depend only on anti-bodies.
"The anti-bodies that are seen using the commercial kits available in the market are not necessarily the anti-bodies that can protect from COVID disease. Whenever a person gets vaccinated, two types of immunity emerge. One is known as neutralizing anti-body or anti-body mediated immunity. The second one is cell-mediated immunity. The third and the most important one is immune memory. Immune memory is generated after vaccination and is present in cells and whenever the virus enters the body, this gets activated," he explained