Pandemic is not yet over, warns top scientist

‘Important to keep economy running, but don’t forget virus is all around us’

February 16, 2022 06:35 pm | Updated 08:15 pm IST - HYDERABAD

Rakesh Mishra, director of Tate Institute for Genetics and Society.

Rakesh Mishra, director of Tate Institute for Genetics and Society. | Photo Credit: NAGARA GOPAL

The COVID-19 pandemic is not over yet and “if we don’t do anything, we might get another wave through a new variant, which is likely to be highly infectious and cause severe clinical impacts”, warn scientists.

“Omicron may be causing milder symptoms, but it could still be fatal for the elderly and those with co-morbidities. If we allow ourselves to be infected by disregarding safety protocols or not taking the vaccine, we will be effectively helping new and, possibly, more potent variants to arise in a few months,” says director of Tata Institute for Genetics & Society (TIGS), Rakesh Mishra.

The former CSIR-CCMB director says it is “dangerous” to think Omicron is “mild” because it is still a virus and not a vaccine: “We are extremely lucky we have multiple options of vaccines. While they may not guarantee protection from infection, they are still doing an amazing job of substantially reducing hospitalisation and death related to COVID-19. Vaccines are controlling transmission and in ensuring cellular immunity even if antibody titers may become less with time”.

New variants are expected to be “more infectious” to replace the existing dominant ones. “We have to be very proactive and, as shown in case of Omicron, coordination among countries across the world is vital too. Omicron took less than a couple of months to spread across the world,” he points out, in an exclusive interaction.

While we need to keep the economy running and open up educational institutions, we should in no way forget that the virus is all around us. “It is dangerous and we should not let it spread. Face masks should become part of our social etiquette because by protecting yourself, you will be safeguarding your own vulnerable family members and friends. Avoid crowded places or spend less time there,” says Dr. Mishra.

Randomised testing of samples, wastewater surveillance and genomic sequencing should be continued even as the peak is past so that a sudden spurt in cases or unusual symptoms can be monitored, he advises. “It is equally important to share the data as soon as possible. This is important to ensure data-based strong policies. Correct information should be disseminated by people in responsible positions and experts, as that helps in building trust among the people and minimise misinformation and disinformation,” adds the TIGS director.

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