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The third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic — driven by the new variant of concern Omicron — is projected to peak by February 2022, according to a study by the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur. Experts had alerted the country about the inevitable third wave. The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared that the Delta and Omicron variants of concern are “twin threats” that are driving new cases to record highs in Europe and US, leading to a spike in hospitalizations and deaths.
The Indian government has also noted the recent surge in new Covid-19 cases and issued fresh guidelines to all states to contain its spread.
SARS-Co-V2 virus keeps evolving over time to escape natural and vaccine immunity. Mutations occur at the genomic level. The new variant Omicron has been found to be highly transmissible. Its doubling time is 1.5-3 days compared to 5 days with the Delta variant. Omicron has 34 mutations on spike protein versus 8 mutations for the Delta variant. Does it make Omicron more dangerous than the Delta variant ? We don’t know yet! It’s definitely spreading rapidly across many countries. So far it is known to cause mild to moderate illnesses. Although hospitalizations have increased putting stress on healthcare systems in many countries, death rate has been reported low compared to Delta variant. Many cases are reported to be asymptomatic, which is another reason why it’s difficult to contain.
Its diagnosis is similar to other variants – with RTPCR for SARS-Co-V2. However, the exact variant is identified through Genomic Sequencing, which is technology demanding. Once a variant is identified, kits can be developed to quickly diagnose looking at a hallmark mutation.
All available Covid-19 vaccines modify the disease process. They reduce severity of the disease, hospitalizations and deaths. One can still get Covid-19 after vaccination, but following appropriate behaviour ensures one against getting the disease.
Vaccine immunity wanes over a period of time. Hence, experts have recommended additional precautionary doses to all front-line workers and people above 60 years of age, who have comorbidities. It will be rolled out to the general population soon.
Children are largely not vaccinated in India and are as susceptible as adults in getting the disease. However, most of the children are less likely to get the severe disease. Majority of affected children may be asymptomatic or may have mild to moderate symptoms. However, the affected children can be super spreaders, spreading it to other children with weaker immunity, non-immunized or partially immunized adults, elderly population etc. Some of them can get very sick.
Currently, no vaccines are approved for children up to 15 years in India. The best way to protect our children is to make sure all the adults in the family and the vicinity get fully vaccinated against Covid-19. This should include all househelps, drivers, security, teachers etc.
There is no shortcut to following Covid-19 appropriate behaviour – making sure children (above 2 years) wear masks when stepping out, follow social distancing and hand hygiene, will protect children from getting the disease. It’s especially important for people living in large apartment complexes and closed communities. Adults should be role models to kids by following Covid-19 appropriate behaviour at all times in the community.
Avoiding public places, following Covid-19 protocols while visiting hospitals or clinics, preventing large gatherings while kids play outside, ensuring good nutrition, isolating children with cough, cold or fever, seeking early advice from your pediatrician go a long way in preventing the spread of the disease.
Infants and younger children less than 2 years have an immature immune system and they are more susceptible in the absence of available vaccines. Breastfed infants will get protection against Covid-19 from antibodies passed on from their mothers.
Ensure all children get age appropriate vaccinations to prevent vaccine preventable diseases.
Currently, Covaxin has been approved for children aged 15-18 years. Few other vaccines are likely to be approved soon for children once their safety profile is established.