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The Omicron Wave


The world continues to be under the shadows of the COVID-19 pandemic. The turmoil has only grown worse since the discovery of the Omicron variant, the most transmissible and mutated variant of the virus so far. After a consistent decline in cases last year, nations across the globe are now facing a foreboding third or fourth wave. Despite all the progress we made through the pandemic, Omicron appears to be immune enough to breach through the vaccines. Israel, a country facing its 5th wave, is also the first nation to lead the charge on a 4th vaccine dose (booster shot) - proving vaccine effectiveness against the Omicron variant is low. Mounting evidence suggests this variant is considerably less severe, with fewer hospitalizations (5-10%, significantly lower than the delta wave) and is less likely to affect the lungs. However, it remains a huge threat due to its sheer contagiousness.


The Situation in India


With worldwide cases towering at above 300 million, India itself reported 2.64 lakh cases on the 13th of January, making the active count more than 9.5 lakh. The daily positivity rate has increased to nearly 14% percent. It is widely speculated that the national capital alone could observe over 50,000 cases daily in merely a week. These figures heavily contradict the capacity of hospitals. The preliminary projection by scientists claims that while the infection rate will continue to grow, the peak bed requirement in Delhi will be less than 12,000. During the 2nd wave, India managed to endure possibly the darkest period it ever faced as its healthcare system collapsed. While the numbers aren’t as alarming as the second wave, lack of provision and precaution could lead to a similar scenario remnant of the excruciating shortage of hospital utilities we saw in May 2021. Current projections report around 496,628 covid-19 deaths by May 1, 2022. According to several reports and models, depending on the different assumptions on susceptible people, there could be 300,000, 600,000 or 1 million cases daily.


The Omicron Wave


Barely a month after South Africa first informed the WHO about this new variant, 91 countries reported its presence and now, over a hundred have returned to lockdowns and curfews. The pandemic continues to evolve. In its third year, COVID-19 stands raging in over 200 countries. With an impact so huge, the life expectancy around the world has dived. The pandemic has also majorly put a halt to mankind’s progress in other aspects of healthcare. According to an assessment by WHO, the world is now facing a boulder in the way of achieving universal health coverage. Evidently, the resulting health expenditure has pushed half a billion people into the pits of poverty in these past years. The world seems to be in an endless loop of disease outbreaks. Amidst this chaos, vaccines remain an effective tool towards ending the pandemic.


The Vaccine’s Role


So far, the two dose vaccines provide far less protection than those paired with a booster. A report by Imperial College London showed that the risk of reinfection with Omicron was 5.4 times greater than the Delta variant. Researchers found that the two doses dispensed 70 percent protection against hospitalization while only 33 percent against infection. They found an increased risk of developing a symptomatic omicron case compared to Delta for those who were a few weeks past their second dose. Depending on the estimates used for vaccine effectiveness against symptomatic infection from the Delta variant, this concludes into vaccine effectiveness estimates against symptomatic Omicron infection of between 0% and 20% after two doses, and between 55% and 80% after a booster dose. Similar estimates were obtained using genotype data, alongside uncertainty. India, has not yet begun a full fledged 3rd dose (booster dose) campaign with only senior citizens with comorbidities as well as health workers allowed to take the shot. A quick response to the variant will be opening booster doses to all above 18. India has regardless began the vaccination drive for teenagers (Born 2007 or earlier) yielding impressive results of nearly 30 lakh daily administered shots and over 20 million teenagers vaccinated within a week.


Conclusion


It is widely speculated the third wave will peak by mid-February to early March. Medical professionals expect a gradual decline in cases in five to six weeks. But is the third wave really the endemic stage of this virus? Will the third wave’s end finally rid us of this atrocity that has been preying on us for over 2 years now? The nature of mutations is beyond predictions. We can’t tell when the virus may evolve into something greater. Just a few days ago, a lab in Bihar discovered yet another mutation. Reaching the endemic stage is not the ‘end of covid’. The only hope we might look up to is reaching complete vaccine coverage. As of 30th December, 64% of India’s adult population was fully vaccinated and 90% had received the first dose. There still is a long road to go down when it comes to achieving a 100% vaccination rate. The endemic stage of any disease can only be reached when a majority of the population becomes immune to it. The more capable we are to protect ourselves and take preventive measures, the more likely we are to overcome what seems as the most formidable obstacle to development , growth and freedom.


Risika Singh



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