Home / Science / Health /  Covid yet to abate in Kerala, N-E states despite high vax rate

Most states where the second covid wave is still raging are also the ones that have clocked greater vaccine coverage than the rest of India, shows a Mint analysis. Kerala, as well as several northeastern states where active infections are on the rise, serve as a warning that high vaccination rates must be accompanied by abundant caution if a third pandemic wave is to be averted, experts said.

Sikkim, which has the highest test positivity rate in India (19%), has already given the first vaccine shot to an estimated 65% of its population, government data shows. The first-dose coverage is 47% for Mizoram, 33% for Kerala, and 26% for Manipur—each of which has a more than 10% positivity rate. Across India, 22% of the population has got the first dose.

Slow retreat
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Slow retreat

Thirteen states and Union territories have a higher positivity rate than the national average (2.3%), 12 of which have more extensive vaccination coverage than the national figure. The test positivity rate refers to the share of covid-19 tests showing a positive result.

The data shows that complacency after getting the first dose of the vaccine would be misguided, experts said. While vaccines have largely brought down hospitalization and mortality rates, mild infections are not unheard of in spite of jabs. Health experts called for continued precaution even after getting vaccinated. In recent days, heightened tourist activity in hill states such as Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand has alarmed authorities.

“Vaccination only helps prevent serious adverse effects from covid infection and is not meant to prevent the infection itself," said Rijo M. John, an adjunct professor at Rajagiri College of Social Sciences, Kochi. “So, it is important that the vaccination coverage reaches as much proportion of the population as possible to minimize adverse events from future waves of the pandemic."

Uneven ride
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Uneven ride

Ramanan Laxminarayan, director of the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy (CDDEP), pointed out that states with higher vaccination rates have stronger and more transparent health systems that are also more likely to test and report covid cases. “Therefore, it should be no surprise that states with strong health systems are also experiencing higher positivity rates," he said.

Kerala, for instance, has had one of the highest testing rates in India since the start of the pandemic. In the past two weeks, the state has tested 3,402 samples per million population per day, 2.5 times the national average. Higher testing increases the likelihood of finding more infections. Kerala continues to have the highest caseload in India.

In most other states, testing rates have actually fallen since the peak of the second wave.

Researchers said it is essential to study the impact of the vaccines on new and more transmissible variants of the virus. Real-time assessment of vaccine efficacy and monitoring of new cases are crucial if authorities want to be prepared for a possible third wave, said Giridara Gopal, a CDDEP researcher.

He said states where covid subsided despite low vaccination should not be assumed to have herd immunity without serological evidence and should continue to enforce strict rules on mask-wearing and social distancing as well as accelerate the pace of administering jabs for high-priority groups.

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