Home / Opinion / Views /  A potential side-effect of India’s billionth dose
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Nine months after the roll-out of our covid vaccination programme, we have a notable achievement on the country’s scoreboard: 1 billion doses given. “India scripts history," said Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Twitter, calling it a triumph of Indian science, enterprise and the collective spirit of 1.3 billion Indians. Indeed, our scientists sprang to action and came up with a vaccine quickly, private-sector supplies of this one and an imported formula fed syringes daily by the million, and citizens cheered along and chipped in admirably. Coronavirus has granted us few moments to pat ourselves on the back, with past heaves of relief suffocated all too soon, but it is clearly good news that three-fourths of our adults have now been covered by at least a single dose. This suggests that we may eventually be able to cover a bigger portion of our population than advanced countries where hesitancy has got in the way. At a stretch, India would even be able to deliver on its promise to vaccinate the world’s left-behinds. While the toll taken by the virus has been high, with an official record of over 450,000 lives lost since the outbreak, our 7-day rolling average of daily infections has slid to around 15,000. Covid, some experts suspect, is going endemic at last.

Endemicity would mean a low but stable level of illnesses that we could handle. However, we should recognize this only as a best-case scenario and resist the notion that we have already shielded ourselves adequately. Only 31% of adults have been fully jabbed so far. As full dosage is what it takes to secure us from the bug’s harshest effects, this holds greater relevance than an absolute number of jabs administered. This ratio could have been higher had order-placing oversights at the onset, followed by planning muddles and vax policy flip-flops not turned the first six months of our drive into a jerky tale of stops and spurts. Some allowance can be made for the shock of a Delta-led second wave in April, a ghastly affair which threw several aspects of administration into a tizzy, but India’s unfortunate failure to scan Sars-CoV-2 genomes and spy that threat early holds a lesson that should restrain over-confidence in the state of our immunity.

Even if a worst-case scenario only has a low chance of unfolding, it deserves a look-in. Delta was an odd mutation that spread around unusually fast, but the global concern right now is Delta+, the further evolution of which could combine speedy transmission with Beta’s ability to dodge the defences jabbed into our arms. An endemic virus would continue to lurk, even as under-18s remain unjabbed and we have no word whether elders and others now in need of booster shots as vax efficacy wanes will get them anytime soon. Our campaign to immunize everyone needs to expand, even gain pace. Periodic daily scores of over 10 million doses make news but tell us little about what matters, which is the actual resistance we collectively have. We still have a long way to go. Our supply obligations to the rest of the world also need to be fulfilled, for both humanitarian and strategic reasons. This pandemic has seen national and global interests overlap, and we must do our bit. Yet, we must not let the celebration of this occasion lull us into a false sense of security. As a number, one billion resonates with our approximate headcount in common parlance. In tribute to science, though, reality must trump rhetoric.

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