ICMR-National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) director R. Hemalatha has said that the latest data across the world has shown that vaccines taken in double dose spread over a period of few weeks is safe and efficacious in preventing severe infection even if one contracts COVID-19.
“We can even eliminate this pandemic as vaccines have proven to be successful earlier, whether it was for small pox or polio. Two doses are required for a person as the first dose stimulates our immune system to generate neutralising antibodies — from seven days up to two/three or four weeks. The second dose makes it (immune response) stronger as the first one may not be potent enough to tackle the infection. Both are very important,” she asserted.
The director was participating in a virtual meeting organised by the CSIR-Indian Institute of Chemical Technology (IICT) ‘Campaign for COVID-19 appropriate behaviour and vaccination’ in Telugu moderated by principal scientist M. Chandrasekharam on Wednesday. IICT director S. Chandrashekar in his introductory remarks was confident of a larger population being inoculated as two more vaccines would be available by mid-May.
Even after double-dose vaccination, citizens need to observe COVID-appropriate behaviour because one is capable of spreading the virus to others. “There is a chance of mild infection even after double-dose vaccination and it is always better to take a COVID test if the symptoms are there, because the person is capable of infecting others though the chances are minimal. In one lakh persons, 40 may get infected, but they are likely to have a low viral dose and have been found to have no complications like pneumonia so they are 80-90% safe,” said Dr. Hemalatha.
There is no sufficient evidence to show women are safer from COVID, yet they “seem to be recovering faster”. Menstruating women too can take the vaccine, but there is not much data on whether pregnant or lactating mothers can be given the doses, or even for children, because studies have been not been conducted for those categories. “It should be safe but we have no studies yet,” she said.
The director advocated healthy diet of fruits, vegetables and pulses plus nuts along with lowering of cereals intake based on observation and clinical studies. Significantly, she asserted that the current surge in cases shows no difference in the way the virus is transmitting, in health complications or mortalities when compared to last year’s first wave.
Atal Incubation Centre-CCMB chief executive officer N. Madhusudhana Rao said both vaccines (Covishield and Covaxin) can effectively neutralise any variants prevailing in the country, including the double mutant. “Double mutant is prevalent up to 50% in Kerala and Maharashtra, but we do not have epidemiological or scientific evidence to say they are spreading more as the present surge could be due to a combination of super spreader events,” he said.
“The virus does mutate but 99% are nothing to be alarmed about. The sooner we can control the spread, the faster we can halt the mutations or there is a chance of more potent strain, which could even make the vaccines ineffective too. As of now, we do not need to fear,” he maintained. IICT principal scientist S. Ramakrishna said 95% protection comes from wearing masks always when outside and even inside home if there is no proper ventilation or there is a sick person around.