With new emerging variants, vaccine hesitancy major concern for India: Expert

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Being one of the hardest-hit countries by the COVID-19 pandemic, India has managed to bring down the number of daily cases significantly since the peak of the second wave and has achieved significant progress in vaccinating the people.

However, the government continues to urge people to get vaccinated and follow COVID-19 appropriate behavior, including wearing masks and maintaining social distancing, still there are some challenges that need to overcome to register victory over Covid pandemic.

Dr. Nitin Verma, Director, Pediatrics, Madhukar Rainbow Children’s Hospital, said that despite the progress, there are still some challenges that India faces in its fight against COVID-19. The emergence of new variants is a concern, and India has already seen the Delta and Omicron variants causing significant spikes in cases.

“Another challenge is vaccine hesitancy, which remains an issue in certain parts of the country. The government has launched campaigns to address this issue and ensure that people are aware of the importance of getting vaccinated. The country also faces challenges in maintaining a delicate balance between economic recovery and containing the spread of the virus. The pandemic has caused significant economic damage, and the government is keen to ensure that the economy bounces back quickly. However, this cannot be done at the expense of public health”, said Dr Verma.

Dr Verma said that multi-pronged approach is required to contain the virus effectively. This includes ramping up testing and tracing, ensuring adequate healthcare facilities and resources, and creating awareness among the public about COVID-19 appropriate behavior.

“XBB.1.16, the new Omicron variant that is leading to rise in number of Covid-19 cases across the country, especially in Maharashtra has become a cause of concern for people. XBB.1.16, first detected in Pune in February this year is said to be fast replacing the dominant strains in the country. Named officially as XBB.1.16 on March 5, the sub-variant rapidly transmits and has additional mutations in its nucleotide and amino acids”, Dr Verma said.

He underlined that the hybrid lineage of recombinant XBB, this strain that first emerged in 2021 is resulting in high transmission rate. A mutant strain of Omicron, it can elude hybrid immunity and of that gained by vaccination. Meanwhile, India has seen over 40% jump in daily Covid-19 cases – highest since six months – which seems to be driven by the new variant.