New Delhi [India], December 3 (ANI): A possible third wave of pandemic triggered by Omicron, the new variant of COVID-19, can be avoided if necessary precautions are taken, a senior scientist said on Friday and noted that the country also has the advantage of a large section of population having "hybrid immunity".
Dr Anurag Agrawal, Director of CSIR-Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology, New Delhi, said that three types of immunity against the virus are natural immunity coming from infection, vaccine immunity coming from vaccines and hybrid immunity, in which a person who has previously been infected also gets vaccinated.
"If we are talking about the third wave, I don't think that will happen if we take all the necessary precautions today. A large section of our population has hybrid immunity. Even if they fall sick, that should not become a severe disease," Dr Agrawal told ANI in an interview.
Asked about the severity of a possible third wave in the country, Dr Agrawal, who has a specialisation in lung disease and physiology, said Omicron does have all the attributes of the type of variant that can create a third wave of pandemic but the reports on its transmissibility being six times more than that of Delta variant are probably wrong.
"If we really look at Omicron, it has all the features of the type of variant that would create a third wave. It has a very powerful immune escape from all the data that we are seeing. It is clearly highly transmissible. The reports of it being six times more transmissible are probably wrong, but it could be one-and-a-half times more transmissible, even two times more transmissible. But even that is actually very highly transmissible. All of us remember Delta (variant)," he told ANI.
"A virus that can have greater immune escape than Delta, break vaccinations of the previous infection immunity better and is also transmissible, is certainly capable of creating a wave of infections that you refer to when you talk about the third wave," he added.
The scientist said that the healthcare workers who have already received both the doses of COVID-19 vaccine before the second wave in the country might become susceptible in a possible third wave and suggested that a booster dose should be given.
"The section of population that has never been vaccinated, we must get them vaccinated. And we must take care of that very important section of the population like healthcare workers who got double vaccinated before the second wave and have not got infected and might become susceptible again. We must provide them an appropriate way of protecting themselves like a booster. And that is something for us to consider as we meet other priorities," he told ANI.
Asked about the possibility of infection in the children, Dr Agrawal said vaccination was a way to prevent the virus from spreading as also following COVID-19 protocols.
"Surveys show that children have got infected at almost the same rate as adults. Children will continue to be at low risk for severe disease but if there are more number of infections, some will always develop severe disease. So what we must do is to minimise the number of infections and that will come not only by vaccines, not only by implementation of measures by the government. It will come from public cooperation, using masks, avoiding crowded indoor spaces," he said.
The senior scientist hoped that the third wave, if it comes, "should not be catastrophic" in terms of strain upon the healthcare system.
Union Health Minister Manuskh Mandaviya said on Friday that RT-PCR tests have been done of 16,000 passengers from 'at risk' countries and 18 samples have been sent for genome sequencing to determine if they have Omicron variant of the virus or not.
He said there are 373 cases of Omicron, classified as variant of concern by WHO, in 29 countries.
India is conducting RT-PCR tests of passengers from "at risk" countries and revised guidelines have been issued for travel from these countries.
The new variant of COVID-19 was first reported to the World Health Organisation (WHO) from South Africa on November 25. As per the WHO, the first known confirmed B.1.1.529 infection was from a specimen collected on November 9 this year. (ANI)