After experiencing a harrowing second Coronavirus wave in which the nation saw a peak of four lakh cases and record-breaking deaths, India is finally getting some respite with fresh cases showing a downward trend across the nation.
However, even as lockdowns are being lifted, curfews are being relaxed, and non-essential establishments being opened, an expert panel under the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has predicted a third wave of COVID-19 hitting the country anytime between September and October.
The committee of experts, constituted by the National Institute of Disaster Management, in its report submitted to the Prime Minister’s Office also stated that children will have a similar risk as adults since paediatric facilities, doctors and equipment like ventilators, ambulances, etc are nowhere close to what may be required in case a large number of children become infected.
What is the expected caseload?
According to some experts, India’s third wave won’t see as many cases as the country witnessed in the second wave.
Dr Samiran Panda, the head of epidemiology and infectious diseases at the Indian Council of Medical Research had said, “There would be a nationwide third wave but that does not mean that it would be as high or as intense as the second wave.”
Other experts have also stated that the third wave is unlikely to be as massive as the second one — simply because there aren’t as many people left to be infected in India. Dr Jugal Kishore, head of the Community Medicine department, Safdarjung Hospital, said around 80 per cent of people have immunity against the virus, either due to previous infection or due to vaccination.
As of date, only around 7.6 percent (10.4 crore) people are fully vaccinated in India and that number needs to be even higher, if India wishes to avoid facing the dire consequences of the inevitable third wave.
When the virus mutates
The second wave of COVID-19 was, reportedly, significantly driven by the Delta variant of the coronavirus, which is more infectious and has immune escape properties (as shown by a few studies).
And as per the government, the third wave too will be driven mostly due to mutations of the virus.
Experts are already looking at the Kappa variant, which has already been designated a Variant of Interest since April 2021. Another concerning variant is the new Delta plus variant, which is considered highly infectious and has been reported in Maharashtra. Experts warn that this variant may trigger a third wave of the pandemic in the state.
The Lambda variant (C.37), first reported from Peru, is widely circulating in South America. By June 2021, it had been reported in around 25 countries, including in the UK, France, Germany, Italy, and Australia. However, the number of COVID cases as a result of this variant outside South America remains small. No case of Lambda variant has yet been reported from India or neighbouring countries.
Are children to be affected more?
Children are the heart of the fears around a possible third wave of COVID-19 in India.
While there is no official data or study that proves that the third wave could be deadly for children, an editorial in the Times of India on 12 May, by Dr Devi Shetty, a cardiac surgeon and the head of Karnataka’s Covid-19 task force, had stated, “During the first wave, Covid attacked mainly the elderly and spared youngsters,” he wrote.
“The second wave is attacking a large number of young breadwinners. The third wave is likely to attack children, since most adults are already infected or immunised.”
A government survey in Mumbai from April to mid-June showed the presence of virus antibodies in at least half of those younger than 18. However, Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya has said that it is not appropriate to say that the Covid third wave will hit children more.
Further, India has been working to increase pediatric facilities in India in preparation for such a possibility and is also looking to vaccinate children soon. Zydus Cadila’s Covid vaccine, which can also be administered to children above the age of 12 years, was recently given emergency approval by the Drugs Controller General of India, paving way for inoculations to be started soon for kids above 12.
Ramping up vaccination
According to the COVID vaccination dashboard of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, as of 23 August, 2021, 47,85,44, 144 (over 47 crore) individuals have been administered at least one dose of COVID vaccine.
According to data from the CoWin portal, out of the total 30.9 crore doses administered since January 2021 till 25 June 2021, 14.3 crore went to women vis-a-vis 16.7 crore to men. The proportion of vaccine coverage — 856 doses to women for every 1,000 doses for men — does not match India’s current sex ratio of 924 women per 1,000 men.