By Dr. Soma Marla
In May, 2021, Union Minister Prakash Javadekar had announced that Vaccination would be completed by December, 2021. But the fact is that by December 31, 2021 only 63 per cent of adult population could be fully vaccinated. While the monthly average vaccination for September was around 8.1 million doses a day, it fell to 5.4 million in October and 5.7 million in November. A clear sign of loss of tempo and waste of valuable time in pandemic control with missed targets.
This is happening when Metro cities across the nation are witnessing a massive surge in COVID cases. Delhi and Mumbai too have rapidly rising cases and disease positivity rate touching 3.9 mark. A high positivity rate is a clear signal of beginning of an impending yet another disastrous pandemic. These days universal vaccination and appropriate behaviour are the only options available to avert rapid spread of Omicron variant of Corona virus. The central government is to be blamed for its flawed vaccination policy, pseudo scientific cures and its misplaced trust in private sector with 25 per cent of doses. The biased corporate health sector benefiting from ‘differential pricing’ and flawed vaccine production, policies had to be abandoned for free and universal vaccination only after the Central government met with severe criticism and protests from opposition parties and civil groups.
As on December 31, short of year-end target, Only 63 per cent adults got fully vaccinated in India. As on today only option to avert rapid spread of Omicron and COVID infection is fast tracking universal vaccination (two doses) and strict adherence to COVID behavioural discipline. Total vaccine requirement today would include – Nearly 99 million beneficiaries in the age group of 15-18 years, which will require about 198 million doses (2 doses),about 30 million precautionary doses for healthcare and frontline workers, 142 million precautionary doses for 60+year population and nearly 439.6 million doses for the remaining adult population. Looking at the performance during the pandemic, the private sector was largely ineffective in dealing with the crisis, with instances of profiteering with very high vaccine costs and hospitalization bills. This even made the Central and state governments to invoke powers to curb inhuman profiteering from helpless patients. In short, chief cause for emergence of new COVID variants is Vaccine inequality dictated by profit hungry global multinationals like Pfizer and Moderna. No surprise in capitalism even at times of pandemic, profits stand before human lives.
Achieving complete vaccination goal at least by middle of this year requires boosting vaccine production to full capacity with both vaccine manufacturers, making use of available unutilized production space in public sector, for instance, Chengalputu Integrated Vaccine complex (Tamil Nadu) and other public sector units. Above all, government should support and accept the demands of Asha workers, doctors and other health personnel immediately.
As on last week of December, 2021, civilian vaccination in Africa stood at meagre 20 per cent (single dose). Although many African countries are major source of gold, diamonds and also rare minerals to Western multinational corporations for manufacturing mobile phones to solar batteries, they remain poor and notable to pay high prices charged by global vaccine firms. Existing vaccine inequality and large tracks of unvaccinated population are the fertile ground for emergence of new COVID variants like Omicron.
In COVID 19 virus cells contain important genome regions that house Spike genes (responsible for entry in to lungs, attack human immune system), envelope proteins and immune system compromising genes. Spike gene region is the most vital in infection and its genes get attached to Ece.2 receptors eventually disfunctioning of lungs. The genes contain DNA acids that are placed like alphabets in a sentence.
In Alpha and Delta variants of non vaccinated people nearly 50 mutations have accumulated. Eventually evolving Omicron variant. Mutations are similar to wrong spelling of words (DNA) in the Spike genes of SARS virus. As genome sequencing facilities are practically on-existent in Africa the accumulated Spike gene mutations that led to new Omicron variant could not be detected early. RNA is extracted from suspected patient blood samples and passed through Illumina or Nanopore genome sequencer machines
Supercomputers are employed to read DNA spelling mistakes compared with original SARS Wuhan virus and mutants identified. Presence of thus identified variants are confirmed using a molecular biology test RTPCR. The whole procedure requires seven to eight hours for detection of Omicron variant infection in suspected patients. Genom2sequencing, RTPCR and supercomputing facilities are essential for detection of rapidly emerging SARSCOVID variants and development of vaccines and drugs. In India there are only 10 to 12 laboratories equipped with genome sequencing facility. One such genome sequencing facility is available in author’s laboratory in ICAR Delhi.
By virtue of gene mutations accumulated in Omicron genome it spreads four times faster than Alpha and Beta and Delta variants. Another variant ‘Demicron’ is detected where both Delta and Omicron are together identified in patient.
As on 2nd January, nearly 27,000 new cases including Omicron variant are reported across the country. Due to fast nature of spreading infection complete vaccination is absolutely necessary to avert the pandemic. Mass organizations and civil society groups should educate people to fast track vaccination. Central government should avoid pseudo science and immediately seek help from various opposition parties, scientists, secular civil society and religious groups to fast track and complete achieve vaccination goals. (IPA Service)
(Author is Principal Scientist (Genomics; retd), ICAR, Delhi).