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healthcare | IST

COVID 3rd wave unlikely with no new variants, need more data to decide on vaccination of kids: Dr Gangandeep Kang

“India doesn't have enough data on vaccinating kids as of now" says Virologist Doctor Gagandeep Kang. When asked about the UK vaccine advisory body not supporting jabs for children aged 12 to 15, he called for weighing the risks and benefits.

On Friday, the vaccine advisory panel in the United Kingdom, which comprises the country's top scientists, did not recommend vaccinating children between the age of 12 and 15, preferring a precautionary approach instead.
Countries like the United States, Israel and even some European Nations are vaccinating children above the age of 12. So, what should India do and what about the push for a third booster dose and more importantly, where is India in the COVID-19 curve? To answer all these questions Shereen Bhan spoke to virologist Doctor Gagandeep Kang.
On vaccination for children, Dr Kang said, “There have been very few studies that have looked at how many children got infected and how many of those infections resulted in severe disease and mortality. We know that severe disease and mortality numbers are not zero but we don’t know what the denominator is, we don’t know what that is as a fraction of all the children who were potentially infected. For making decisions that are appropriate for our children, we need our data.”
“If we look at data from other parts of the world, it is a question of risk versus benefit. For some of the vaccines that have been used in other parts of the world we know that there are a certain level of side effects. For India, before we make any decisions it would be great to see that data on how the pandemic has played out.”
On third wave and vaccination count, Dr Kang said, “If we don't have new variants, the chances of a third wave that resembles the second wave is extremely unlikely and that really is because the bulk of the population has been either infected or vaccinated."
"Our vaccination numbers are climbing every day and that is something that he needs to continue to focus on to make sure that we are protecting people as much as possible. The models are conjectures and quite frankly, for many of the conjectures that are predicting a third wave, I really don't know where they are getting their input data from."
"Having studied infectious diseases for quite a while, I know that prior infections or vaccination confer protection, and more population that is previously infected or vaccinated, the greater the chances that you will have less disease in the population over time and that is the situation we are in today.”
On strategy and approach in Maharashtra during Ganesh festival, Dr Kang said, “We need to continue to do the kinds of things that we have done previously - that operate in a very calibrated fashion. So if you identify people who are infected, it is likely that they are infectious and they should be encouraged to quarantine or be in isolation depending on the facilities that they have at home."
"We definitely do not want this disease to be continuing to spread because there are still vulnerable people who either have not been vaccinated or infected or for some reason are unable to mount a protective immune response. So when a case is detected, absolutely, quarantine and isolation is the way to go. Make sure that their contacts are traced, tested and isolated is found to be positive.”
She added, “However, one of the things that's important to recognise is that vaccination and prior infection don't protect you from subsequent infections, you can get infected and you can potentially transmit the infection but at a lower rate than for somebody who has not previously been infected or has not been vaccinated."
"Suppose public health precautions in terms of testing needs to continue, we need to be careful about crowding, we still need to not put ourselves in situations where we are knowingly transmit infection to others or expose ourselves or is to infection. So masking whenever we are outdoors or in contact with people that you don’t know will continue to be important.”
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On whether COVID-19 is endemic, she said, “When the WHO, or anyone else says that this is a disease that is endemic, it means it is a disease that is widely prevalent in the population. It is not a disease that is going to go away. You may not see it today, you may not see it tomorrow, but you will see it occasionally, in flare-ups, or as sporadic cases that are detected wherever testing is done."
"We have to learn to recognise that this is a disease that is going to be with us for a while. Most of the infectious diseases that we have our endemic tuberculosis is endemic, cholera in India even though it causes outbreaks is an endemic disease. Rotavirus is endemic, influenza causes, again, a pattern of disease but is actually an endemic infection. Most infections that are in populations over long periods of time are called endemic.”
On booster dose for India, Dr Kang said, “I don’t think this is the time for a booster for India. I think we should wait and watch. We are actually in a very fortunate position because of the difficult time we went through with the second wave. Having a sero prevalence of about two-thirds even before vaccine coverage became really high gives us a distinct advantage that other parts of the world have not had.”
For full interview, watch accompanying video...