Clearing the air on the findings of the latest sero-survey, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said on Sunday the Indian population is not anyway closer to achieving herd immunity.
The statement from the minister comes on a day when the World Health Organisation (WHO) also advised against any attempts to achieve herd immunity or to hope that it will eventually save us. “Herd immunity or natural population immunity is not an option. Let’s put our energy, focus, workforce, actions into what works.” said Maria Van Kerkhove, COVID 19 Technical Lead, WHO.
In fact, the WHO has time and again stressed on the fact that herd immunity is not an option and attempts to reach it is dangerous. The government of India has also reiterated how one would have to pay an extremely high price to reach natural immunity and that it is not an option for a country like India. It would be fraught with deaths and that reaching immunity through a vaccination programme is desirable.
Vardhan further cautioned that ICMR’s sero-survey report should not create a sense of complacency in people. The first sero-survey conducted in May revealed that the nationwide prevalence of novel coronavirus infection was only 0.73%. Even the soon-to-be-released second sero-survey indications are that we are far from having achieved any kind of herd immunity which necessitates that all of us should continue following COVID-appropriate behaviour.
In his third Sunday Samvaad programme, Vardhan also underscored how complacency would spell trouble for us. “Masks are must even in places of worship,” he said.
He also spoke about his government’s commitment to increase public spending on health. Public healthcare expenditure as percentage of GDP to leap from 1.15 to 2.5 % by 2025, he said.
The government of India has faced flak for reduced and consistently low spending on healthcare for years now. He added that the 15th Finance Commission’s high-level group on health has concurred that healthcare spending must be raised substantially in the next five years in view of the present pandemic.
Vardhan, while interacting with social media followers in his programme, also said that both Remdesivir and plasma therapies are not to be encouraged and continue to fall under the investigational therapy category of managing the coronavirus infection.
He said private hospitals have also been advised against routine use of these investigational therapies. Foctors in the states/Union territories are being made aware of this through webinars and during tele-consultation sessions of AIIMS, New Delhi.
On the emerging evidence that the disease not only impacts our lungs but other organs too, especially cardiovascular and renal systems, Vardhan the Ministry of Health has already set up expert committees to look into these facets. The ICMR is also studying this subject, while also actively investigating and researching reports of reinfection, although the number of reinfection cases is negligible at this moment.