Priya Abraham, National Institute of Virology Director speaks on scientific developments on COVID-19
For the last one year, ICMR-National Institute of Virology (NIV) in Pune has been working on a war footing. “2021 was a difficult but rewarding year for us,” said Ms. Priya Abraham, Director of ICMR-NIV, which has been at the forefront of scientific research on SARS-CoV-2 in the country, in an interview with India Science, the OTT channel of the Department of Science & Technology
Here are some excerpts from the interview on the scientific developments related to COVID-19, an analysis on the future of the pandemic and some common queries related to the virus.
In which stage is the trial of Covaxin on children and by when can we expect to have vaccine for children?
Presently, phase II and III trials of Covaxin are going on for children in the age group of 2-18 years. Hopefully, the results will be available very soon. The results will be presented to the regulators. So, by September or just after that, we may have COVID-19 vaccines for children. This apart, Zydus Cadila’s vaccine trial is also going on. This can also be applied for children and will be made available.
Apart from these, what other vaccines can be made available for our citizens?
Zydus Cadila’s vaccine will be the first DNA vaccine, which will be available for use. Besides, there is Gennova Biopharmaceuticals Ltd.’s m-RNA vaccine, Biological-E vaccine, Serum Institute of India’s Novovax and, another interesting one – an intra-nasal vaccine developed by Bharat Biotech International Limited. This vaccine does not require a jab and can be delivered through the nostrils.
Will any of the presently available vaccines be effective on the Delta-plus variant?
First of all, the Delta-plus variant is less likely to spread than the Delta variant itself. Mainly Delta variants are present in over 130 countries. It has spread all over the world and it is this variant, which is highly transmissible. In NIV, we have done studies on this variant. We have studied the antibodies produced in the bodies of vaccinated people and checked it against this variant. It has been found that efficacy of antibodies against this variant has been reduced two to three folds. Yet, the vaccines are still protective against the variants. They may show a little less efficacy, but vaccines are very important to prevent serious forms of disease due to which patients may get hospitalised and even die. So, whatever the variant, vaccine is till now protective against all, including the Delta variant. So, there should not be any hesitancy at all.
Are we going to require a booster dose in the coming times? Is any study being conducted on this matter?
Studies on the booster dose have been going on overseas and at least seven different vaccines have been tried out for booster dose. Now, WHO has put a stop to it till more countries catch up with vaccination. This is because there is an alarming vaccine gap between high-income and low-income countries but, in future, recommendations for boosters will definitely come.
Are studies also on for mix and match of vaccines? Will it be beneficial for us?
There was a situation where inadvertently two different vaccines were given in two doses. We have tested those samples at NIV and found that the patients who received different vaccines in two doses were safe. No adverse effect was noted and immunogenicity was a little better. So, it is definitely not something which will cause a safety issue. We are studying this phenomenon and will be able to give more details in a few days’ time.
Has any new COVID-19 testing method emerged that gives better results and can be trusted more?
Hospitals and laboratories were overwhelmed by the huge number of cases during the second wave. Many of their staff members were infected. So, efficiency of testing had reduced during that time. There was a shortage of reagents also. All these affected the efficacy of testing. RTPCR testing method is by itself only about 70 per cent sensitive but it is still recommended by the WHO. In future, we may see easier and quicker ‘point-of-care’ tests where we need not send samples to labs.
Please tell us about ICMR developed RT-LAMP test.
RT-LAMP assay produced by ICMR is a cost-effective assay. It does not require expensive equipment or extensive training and can also be done at primary health centres in districts. These kinds of quick and fast tests, which can be done in technologically not so advanced places will become more popular in the future.
Self-testing kits have also come in the market now. Will it further pace testing?
Self-testing kits are antigen testing kits and so, their sensitivity is inferior to RT-PCR method. The sensitivity is likely to be more in symptomatic patients but, for asymptomatic patients, the sensitivity will be less.
Can people infected by Bird-Flu or Zika Virus become susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection?
Bird Flu and Zika Virus are unrelated to Coronavirus. One commonality between H1N1I Bird Flu or Swine Flu Virus and SARS-CoV-2 is that their spread is prevented by good use of masks, physical distancing, hand hygiene and cough etiquette. All these viruses spread through the respiratory route. Thus, by following COVID-19 appropriate behaviour, we can limit the spread of all these viruses. However, Zika Virus spreads through mosquito bites.
Do chances of COVID-19 infection increase during monsoon?
Yes, viral infections like Dengue, Chikangunya and Zika Virus that spread through mosquito bites are going to increase during monsoon. Accumulated water should not be kept in the surroundings as mosquitoes breed in it. It will be worse to have Corona infection on top of these infections, which spread through mosquito bites.
Many images of crowded places are circulating in the media. How much harm can this irresponsible behaviour cause?
Definitely, this will be a problem and we will be ‘inviting’ the next wave. Dr Tedros A Ghebreyusus, DG of WHO says, “The pandemic will end when we choose to end it. It is in our hands.” It means that we have to be careful. Especially in the upcoming festival season, we should not indulge in crowding because that is how the virus will spread.
Is it possible that no other wave will come?
New variants will keep coming. We have two weapons, which are the biggest protection. These are: wearing mask properly and actively encouraging everyone to get vaccinated. Then even if a wave comes, it will not be a big one.
Digital COVID-19 vaccination certificates provided to clinical trial participants of Covishield and Covaxin through Co-WIN
Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) in partnership with Serum Institute of India (SII) conducted phase II/III bridging studies of Covishield from August 2020. Phase III efficacy clinical trials for Covaxin were also conducted by Bharat Biotech International Limited (BBIL) from November 2020. The Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare had received several requests from the trial participants for digital vaccination certificates through Co-WIN.
It was decided that vaccination certificates may be issued to such participants who were administered the vaccines during these trials/studies, after the trials/studies were unblinded. ICMR was designated by the Union Health Ministry as the nodal agency for collection of vaccination data for such participants. ICMR had provided the data for 11,349 such persons to the MoHFW. Digital vaccination certificates have now been issued through Co-WIN, to such persons who participated in these studies/trials of Covishield and Covaxin.
Website link: https://pib.gov.in/PressReleseDetail.aspx?PRID=1748301
Vice President urges medical fraternity to educate people on the safety of COVID-19 vaccine to make it a people’s movement
The Vice President, Shri M Venkaiah Naidu urged the medical fraternity in general and the Indian Medical Association, in particular, to take up special awareness campaigns to educate people about the safety and importance of getting vaccinated against COVID-19.
Inaugurating ‘Vaccinate India Programme’, on 24 August 2021, an initiative of Sustainable Goals Coordination Center, Government of Karnataka in collaboration with Give India Foundation, the Vice President said, there appears to be hesitancy in some quarters to get vaccinated. It is absolutely essential to educate and create awareness among those who are still harbouring doubts, he added.
Calling for turning COVID-19 vaccination drive into a jan-andolan, Shri Naidu exhorted all people’s representatives to ensure that everyone is vaccinated in their constituencies. He also urged the media to educate people on the need to shed vaccine hesitancy. “False beliefs need to be dispelled by providing accurate information,” he stressed.
Observing that vaccination is the most effective shield against COVID-19, the Vice President said that it would help in preventing hospitalisation and lessen the severity of the disease. “In other words, even if infected by the virus, the disease will be mild,” he added.
Emphasising that the fight against Coronavirus cannot be won without people’s cooperation, Shri Naidu appealed to everyone to wear mask, wash hands frequently, observe safe distancing and lead a disciplined and healthy lifestyle. He asked youngsters to avoid junk food and eat properly cooked traditional Indian food, which is more suited to our bodily and climatic conditions.
The Vice President said the pandemic has brought into sharp focus the need to fill the gaps in our health infrastructure from urban centres to rural hinterlands on a priority. Stressing the need to bestow special attention on backward and remote areas in this regard, he urged the private sector to join hands with the government to give a major boost to the health infrastructure.
Pointing out that even the most advanced nations with modern and better medical facilities could not effectively cope with the magnitude of the crisis created by COVID-19, the Vice President said that concerted action by the Government of India, all the State Governments and Union Territories has enabled the country to contain COVID-19 in a fairly satisfactory manner.
Website link: https://pib.gov.in/PressReleseDetail.aspx?PRID=1748500
FAQs on COVID-19 vaccines and vaccination programme
Many people have questions about the development, safety, access, cost, amid other common concerns regarding the COVID-19 vaccines. In view of this, MoH&FW has released a document on FAQs on the COVID-19 vaccines and vaccination programme. This document comprises questions and answers related to different issues such as general issues, vaccine attributes, efficacy and protection, side effects, precautions, follow-up and booster, COVID-19 vaccination programme, COVID-19 vaccination in pregnant and lactating women, etc.
p class="rtejustify">Website link: https://www.mohfw.gov.in/pdf/FAQsCOVID19vaccinesvaccinationprogramWebsiteupload.pdf
Government takes initiative to identify effective medicines under AYUSH to cure patients with symptoms of COVID-19
The Ministry of AYUSH has formed an inter-disciplinary AYUSH R&D task force with representation from ICMR, DBT, Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) and AYUSH institutions. The task force has formulated and designed clinical research protocols for prophylactic studies and add-on interventions in COVID-19 positive cases through a thorough review and consultation with highly reputed experts from different organisations across the country to study four different interventions viz. Ashwagandha, Yashtimadhu, Guduchi + Pippali and a poly herbal formulation (AYUSH-64). Under various research organisations and national research institutes, 126 studies are going on in 152 centres in the country to identify effective medicine to cure patients with symptoms of COVID-19.
Central Council for Research in Ayurvedic Sciences (CCRAS) has undertaken four collaborative research studies in COVID-19 in which the Ayurvedic formulations have been administered as add on to conventional standard care. Further, four collaborative studies have Ayurvedic formulations as standalone treatment, of which two studies have conventional standard care as control arm and remaining two studies are standalone Ayurveda intervention.
Website link: https://pib.gov.in/PressReleseDetailm.aspx?PRID=1738146
PIB reaches out to lactating mothers for COVID-19 appropriate behaviour
Dr Manju Puri, Head, Department, Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Lady Hardinge Medical College, New Delhi talks about the recent decision to administer COVID -19 vaccination during pregnancy, and what precautions women should take to protect herself and her child.
It has now been approved that a woman can take COVID-19 vaccine even during pregnancy. How will it help?
During the second wave, many women contracted COVID-19 during pregnancy compared to the first wave. COVID-19, if severe, can lead to serious complications during pregnancy, especially during the last trimester as the uterus is enlarged and presses on the diaphragm, compromising a woman’s ability to cope with a fall in oxygen saturation. This may lead to a sudden fall in blood oxygen saturation and risk the lives of both the mother and the child. Vaccines will help prevent severe disease in pregnant women.
Also, vaccinating a mother is likely to give some degree of protection to the newborn as the antibodies developed in the mother’s body post-vaccination will pass on to the developing foetus through her blood. In the case of lactating mothers, an infant gets these antibodies through the mother’s milk.
Some people believe that vaccines can cause infertility among women. Is it true?
These are rumours that get circulated on ubiquitous social media. Misinformation is far more dangerous than the virus itself.
Though the COVID -19 vaccines are relatively new, these have been developed using time tested techniques. Vaccines help the body develop immunity against a specific pathogen. It does not affect any other body tissue. In fact, we give some vaccines such as hepatitis B, Influenza, pertussis vaccine to women even during pregnancy to protect them and their unborn child from various diseases.
Besides, our regulators have approved the administration of the vaccines during pregnancy only after they were confident of their safety. There is no scientific data or studies that show that vaccines can cause infertility. These vaccines do not affect the reproductive organs in any way.
What precautions should a pregnant woman take to protect herself from COVID-19?
Pregnancy and childbirth are social events in our society. But, during the pandemic, it may mean exposing the mother and child to infection. We recommend that an expectant mother should wear a mask and maintain physical distance even when at home, amongst her family members. It is because she may not be going out, but her family members could be going out for work and she can contract the infection from them.
So, women should use all COVID-19 appropriate precautions during pregnancy and after childbirth as it can prevent them from infection and related complications.
What should a pregnant woman do if she shows symptoms of COVID-19?
First, if they have any symptoms of COVID-19, they should get themselves tested at the earliest. The sooner we diagnose, the better we can manage the disease. The management of COVID-19 is almost the same during pregnancy as it is for others, but it should be done only under the strict supervision of a doctor
A woman should isolate herself, drink plenty of fluids, and check her temperature and oxygen saturation every four-six hours. If the temperature does not come down even after taking paracetamol, she needs to contact the doctor. If there is a fall in oxygen concentration or if there is a decreasing trend, for example if it is 98 in the morning, 97 in the evening, and then drops further the next day, she needs to get in touch with her doctor.
Besides, women who have associated illnesses such as diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, obesity, etc, need to be more careful, as they may need hospitalisation. So, consult your doctor and keep in touch with your doctor throughout the recovery period.
We strongly recommend an overall health check-up post- COVID-19 recovery to ensure that the mother and the foetus are doing fine.
Can a foetus contract COVID-19 from the mother?
There is no evidence to support this concern. We have done a couple of studies and found that the placenta, an organ that is formed in the uterus in which a foetus grows, acts as a protective barrier. There are a few cases where the newborn were found infected but we are not sure whether those babies got the infection inside the mother’s womb or soon after the birth.
Having said that, as I have explained earlier also, pregnant women must take all possible precautions to prevent the infection as COVID-19 can affect her and her child in many other ways.
What precautions should a COVID-19 positive mother take to protect her newborn?
A mother should continue to breastfeed the baby but is advised to keep the baby at a distance of six feet from her when she is not breastfeeding. A caregiver who is tested negative can also help in taking care of the newborn. Before breastfeeding the newborn, she should wash her hands, wear protective gear such as a mask, face shield. She should also sanitise her surroundings frequently.
If there is no one else to take care of the child, a mother should wear a mask all the time, and maintain physical distance from the child as much as possible. The mother and the child should stay in a well-ventilated room, wash her hands regularly and sanitise the surroundings.
Postpartum depression and anxiety are common among women. Do you see an increase in mental health issues among women during the pandemic?
Certainly, there is an increase in mental health problems among women during pregnancy and post-childbirth. These are times when a woman undergoes a lot of hormonal and physiological changes. She has poor coping skills and needs social support. In the absence of this social support, she can feel lonely, helpless, and depressed.
Isolation for 15 days is difficult for everyone, more so for pregnant women and postnatal mothers. During this time, the additional anxiety about her child’s health can severely affect her mental status.
So, it is important to provide constant support and assurance to women during this time. The family should stay in touch through video calls, and observe any change in her mood and seek medical help if she looks and feels depressed.
We always ask our pregnant women and mothers two simple screening questions: One, does she have little or no interest in doing her routine chores? And second, does she feel sad or feel like crying without any specific reason anytime in the previous two weeks? If the answer is yes to any of these questions it means she needs further evaluation by a psychologist. Doctors, as well as family members, need to watch the woman’s behaviour carefully during this time.
What advice would you like to give to your women patients?
We ask them to stay safe, take adequate precautions and follow COVID-19 appropriate behaviour. Take vaccine as and when it is available to them. Avoid meeting many people.
If they have symptoms suggestive of COVID-19 such as fever, sore throat, loss of taste or smell or exposure to a COVID-19 positive person, they need to seek medical help immediately, should not delay the diagnosis and should not self-treat. Lastly, we also counsel all our pregnant women about various contraceptive methods during pregnancy and offer them postpartum intra-uterine device (Cu T), which can be inserted immediately after childbirth or caesarean delivery. It saves them of an unnecessary visit to the hospital after childbirth and reduces the risk of an unplanned pregnancy.
Government releases guidelines for buffer stock management of COVID-19 to state governments and UT administrations
MoHFW has issued ‘Guidelines for Buffer Stock Management of COVID-19’ to state governments/UT administrations requesting them to initiate the necessary procurement process on priority, with a view to ensure continuous availability of drugs for any possible future surge in cases.
The government has made pro-active arrangements to augment the production capacities of domestic vaccine manufacturers by facilitating technology transfer, providing financial assistance, providing advance payment against supply orders and by streamlining the regulatory pathway for the approval of vaccines. The government has, further placed procurement orders to ensure adequate supply of vaccines to facilitate vaccination of eligible adult citizens.
Website link: https://pib.gov.in/PressReleseDetailm.aspx?PRID=1739470
COVID-19 vaccination dramatically reduces infection, finds AFMS study
Armed Forces Medical Services (AFMS) published vaccine effectiveness among healthcare and frontline workers of Indian armed forces (VIN-WIN cohort study) in Medical Journal Armed Forces India, a peer reviewed scientific journal on 27 July 2021. The study highlights the impact of protection against COVID-19 by COVISHIELD vaccine by analysing the effect on fresh infections and deaths. According to the study, there was a 93 per cent reduction in fresh infections and deaths were reduced by 98 per cent. It is possibly the largest study worldwide on COVID-19 vaccine effectiveness, so far.
Director General, AFMS Surgeon Vice Admiral Rajat Datta, a renowned cardiologist and coauthor of the study said, 1.59 million healthcare workers and frontline workers of the armed forces were among the first recipients when India launched its vaccination drive against COVID-19 on 16 January 2021. The study was largely conducted on healthy males with few co-morbid illnesses. It did not include children and the elderly. In the VIN-WIN study, authors calculated incident rate and incident rate ration. Vaccine effectiveness was calculated as oneincident ration. Both crude and corrected rates were estimated and adjusted for the force of pandemic, second wave and the changing numbers in the three groups on a daily basis. The study was achieved at no additional cost by analysing available data.
The DG AFMS stated that the VIN-WIN cohort study was carried out on anonymised data from the existing armed forces health surveillance system, which had been enhanced for monitoring COVID-19. The surveillance system had data for daily vaccinations with first and second dose, dates of testing positive for COVID-19 and COVID-19 related deaths, which were analysed.
Despite constraints of terrain and location, the armed forces had managed to vaccinate over 82 per cent of the target population as early as 30 May 2021. The study was possible due to the cooperation by various components of the AFMS. Armed Forces Medical College, the medical directorates of Army, Navy and Air Force collaborated with DG AFMS to complete the study.
Website link: https://pib.gov.in/PressReleseDetailm.aspx?PRID=1739585
Ministry of AYUSH strongly denies baseless claim by NICE on COVID-19 treatment protocol
Some misleading claims have been made by a naturopathy related network Network of Influenza Care Experts (NICE) and have been published by some media platforms without journalistic verification. The main claim is regarding developing a protocol of treatment of COVID-19 that has been approved by the Ministry of AYUSH. The claimant has unethically and misleadingly attributed the Ministry’s approval to it. The Ministry strongly denies all such claims of NICE and considers the publication of related news as completely misleading and baseless.
The Ministry further clarifies that the said agency, NICE, has not submitted any application for the so-called protocol to the Ministry. If any proposal related with COVID-19 treatment/ management is submitted to the Ministry by NICE, it will get it thoroughly examined by the Interdisciplinary Technical Review Committee (ITRC). The committee has a well-established and rigorous scientific screening process for such validation. Without the approval of this committee, no AYUSH streams related agency can claim to have developed a protocol. NICE has done a very unethical, illegal and baseless act in claiming to have developed a Ministry of AYUSH approved naturopathy-based protocol for COVID-19 treatment. Equally serious is its act of using the name of the Ministry without the Ministry’s explicit permission.
NICE like false claims fall under a punishable offence according to order no. 40-3/2020-DM-II (A), dated 24 March 2020 of the Ministry of Home Affairs and order no. 1-29/2020-pp (Pt II), dated 24 March 2020 of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA). These orders make false claims as punishable offence so as to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the country. Some media organisations have published the false claim made by NICE without verifying the facts from the Ministry.
National Institute of Naturopathy (NIN) Pune has clearly said that NICE has made some tall and misleading claims. It is further emphasised that NIN, Pune, working under the auspices of the Ministry of AYUSH, has already clarified in the local media that it not only strictly adheres by the guidelines prescribed by the Ministry of Home Affairs for the management, treatment and prevention of COVID-19 but also promotes these guidelines through IEC material and various activities.
Website link: https://pib.gov.in/PressReleseDetailm.aspx?PRID=1740187
Lessons learnt from the COVID-19 crisis being incorporated in ongoing as well as in future programmes and policies: DST Secretary
Department of Science & Technology Secretary, Professor Ashutosh Sharma highlighted that the crisis created by the pandemic has taught us many lessons, and the lessons are being incorporated in all ongoing programmes as well as in future policies and programmes. He said this at a lecture on the ‘Growth of S&T during 21st Century and COVID-19’.
“The pandemic COVID-19 has greatly disrupted the normal life and business, but it has also given us an opportunity to look at things differently and be self-dependent in future to tackle such sudden challenges. Before COVID-19, we were exporting most of the healthcare products that we could have produced in India, but now we ourselves are producing most of the items. We are not dependent on exporting these items from abroad, paving the way towards Atmanirbhar Bharat in health and other sectors,” Prof Sharma said at the online lecture organised on 31 July 2021.
Website link: https://pib.gov.in/PressReleseDetailm.aspx?PRID=1741529
PM chairs high level meeting to review ramping up of oxygen supply across the country
PM Narendra Modi reviewed the progress of oxygen augmentation and availability across the country.
Officials briefed the PM about the progress on the installation of PSA oxygen plants across the country. More than 1500 PSA oxygen plants are coming up across the nation, which includes contribution from PM CARES as well as various ministries and PSUs.
PSA oxygen plants contributed by PM CARES are coming up in all the states and districts of the country. The PM was informed that once all PSA oxygen plants coming up through PM CARES are functional, they would support more than four lakh oxygenated beds.
The PM instructed the officials to ensure that these plants are made functional at the earliest and to work closely with the state governments for the same. Officers apprised the PM that they are in regular touch with the officers from state governments regarding fast-tracking the oxygen plants.
The PM asked officials to ensure that the hospital staff is adequately trained on operation and maintenance of oxygen plants. He also directed officials to ensure that each district has trained personnel available. Officials informed him that there is a training module prepared by experts and they are targeting the training of around 8000 people across the country
The PM also said that we should deploy advanced technology like IoT to track performance and functioning of these oxygen plants at a local and national level. The officials apprised the PM about a pilot being done using IoT for monitoring the performance of the oxygen plants.
The Principal Secretary to the PM, Cabinet Secretary, Secretary Health, Secretary MoHUA and other important officials were present in the meeting.
Breastfeeding mothers should get themselves vaccinated against COVID-19 without any hesitation: Dr Samiran Panda, Head, Division of Epidemiology and Communicable Diseases, ICMR
Breastfeeding mothers should get themselves vaccinated against COVID-19 without any hesitation. The antibodies that are developed in the mother as a result of the vaccination get passively transferred to the baby while breastfeeding and could be helpful to the child, says Dr Samiran Panda, Head, Division of Epidemiology and Communicable Diseases, Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR).
The vaccines available now are largely effective against the new variants of COVID-19: Many people are concerned whether our vaccines will be effective against the newer strains of SARS-CoV-2 virus. According to Dr Panda, the vaccines available now are largely effective against the new variants. He further explains that vaccines are not infection preventing, but disease-modifying. Experiments at ICMR have proved that the vaccines presently available in India are effective against the new variants as well. However, the efficacy may differ for different strains.
People are also wary that the vaccines that they are receiving now may not be effective after a while, as the virus is mutating rapidly. However, Dr Panda points out that mutation are normal for all viruses when they proliferate. Experts suggest that the COVID-19 virus will reach its endemic stage like influenza after a while and then vulnerable population may have to take the vaccine shot annually. Dr Panda explains influenza commonly known as flu was a pandemic 100 years ago but today it is endemic. Similarly, in case of COVID-19, we expect that it will gradually become endemic from its current state of being a pandemic. Currently, we recommend the elderly to take annual flu shots. As the influenza virus keeps mutating, minor changes in the vaccine are made simultaneously. So, there is no need to panic.
It is futile to go for antibody tests: Dr Panda further says that it is futile to go for antibody tests as the immunity does not depend only on antibodies. He adds, the antibodies that are seen using the commercial kits available in the market are not necessarily the antibodies that can protect from COVID-19. Dr Panda explains that whenever a person gets vaccinated, two types of immunity emerge. One is known as the neutralising antibody or antibody mediated immunity. The second one is cell mediated immunity. The third and most important one is immune memory. An immune memory is generated after vaccination and is present in cells and whenever the virus enters the body, this gets activated.
“Vaccines are absolutely safe”: Dr Panda clarifies that people with normal allergies like asthma, dust allergy, allergy of pollen grains, etc. can take the vaccine. Patients with comorbidities can take the vaccine if they are stable. It is advisable for people suffering from diabetes and other immuno-suppressed conditions to get vaccinated because they are at a higher risk. “All the vaccines that are currently available in India have gone through three phases of clinical trials. Safety is tested in the first phase itself. Immunity and efficacy are tested in the later phases. So, I assure everyone that the vaccines are absolutely safe.” Dr Panda added that blood clotting events or AEFI (adverse event following immunisation) following COVID-19 vaccination are miniscule in India.
Dr Panda also suggests that the best option is to take the vaccine available in the country now, rather than waiting for other vaccines that are available globally and may come to India after some time. Dr Panda explains, “please understand that while people may be waiting for other vaccines, which they may consider more convenient or superior, the virus is not waiting. The virus is still spreading in the country. What if you get infected, while you wait?”
Dr Panda says there is no change suggested in preventive measures and treatment of COVID-19 in light of the new variants. “All the mutants, whether it is circulating strains of the virus or the newer variants, the mode of spread is the same. Precautions like wearing masks, avoiding crowded places, hand sanitation are still the effective methods to control the spread of the virus,” he says.
He feels there is no need to change the current standard treatment methods in wake of the new variants of coronavirus, as far as the treatment of COVID-19 is concerned.
Initiative by myGOV to engage the general public in thanking the healthcare workers
As the second wave of COVID-19 once again tests India’s strength and dedication in defeating coronavirus, doctors, nurses and frontline workers have isolated themselves away from their families and have been working day and night to battle the atrocities of the raging pandemic. To make their job easier and help them, people can support them by following Covid appropriate behaviour and take out time to say a heartfelt thank you.
To make them feel valued, myGOV has started an initiative for healthcare workers, for which you have to first join the Thank You Healthcare Workers Initiative and share your appreciation message.
MoHFW reaches out to the common public through an infographic on COVID-19 vaccination for pregnant women
The MoHFW has published information in the form of posters for pregnant women regarding the COVID-19 vaccination. Stating that the COVID-19 vaccine is safe for both the pregnant woman and her child, it also says that symptomatic pregnant women are at great risk of severe disease, which might affect the foetus too. Hence COVID-19 vaccine is recommended for pregnant women.
Press Information Bureau releases daily bulletin on COVID-19
Press Information Bureau (PIB), Government of India releases a daily bulletin on COVID-19, starting from the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak. The bulletin contains press releases concerning COVID-19, issued in the last 24 hours, inputs from PIB field offices, and fact checks undertaken by PIB. These bulletins are published in 14 languages: Hindi, English, Urdu, Marathi, Telugu, Tamil, Punjabi, Bangla, Kannada, Oriya, Gujarati, Assamese, Malayalam and Manipuri. The following data points were released on 21 July 2021.
Government of India presents a regular COVID-19 India factsheet and immunisation programme
Government of India has provided, through the free-of-cost category and direct-state procurement category, more than 41 crore vaccine doses (41,78,51,151) to States/ UTs.
ndia’s coronavirus cases have crossed three crore, and as of 22 July 2021, 08:00 AM it stands at 3,12,57,720 cases, of which 3,04,29,339 have recovered. The recovery rate stands at 97.35 per cent while the case fatality rate stands at 1.34 per cent.
TRIFED and UNICEF is leveraging 45,000 Van Dhan Vikas Kendras to promote COVID-19 vaccines among tribals to clear all vaccine related misconceptions
Shri Arjun Munda, Minister of Tribal Affairs, virtually launched a nationwide campaign ‘COVID Teeka Sang Surakshit Van, Dhan aur Uddyam’ to accelerate the pace of COVID-19 vaccination among tribals, in India. The Minister of State for Steel, Shri Faggan Singh Kulaste; Ministers of State for Tribal Affairs, Shri Bishweswar Tudu and Smt Renuka Singh too were present virtually during the launch. Other dignitaries present during the launch were Shri Pravir Krishna, Managing Director, Tribal Co-operative Marketing Development Federation of India (TRIFED); WHO representative Dr Roderico Ofrin; UNICEF India representative Dr Yasmin Ali Haque; and senior officers of TRIFED as well as partners of Tribal Affairs Ministry and TRIFED in states.
Shri Munda launched the campaign through a video conferencing link-up with field camps in Mandla in Madhya Pradesh and Bastar in Chhattisgarh. During the launch, Bastar Collector Shri Rajat Bansal and Mandla District Collector Smt Harshika Singh gave details about the preparations for vaccination being done in their respective districts.
The campaign will leverage the 45,000 Van Dhan Vikas Kendras (VDVK) of the TRIFED, a national level cooperative body under the administrative control of Ministry of Tribal Affairs, Government of India.
The campaign is being launched in partnership with UNICEF and WHO. The goal is to connect over 50 lakh tribals by emphasising that COVID-19 vaccination is free, available in the nearby centres and that it not only protects people from hospitalisation cost and death but also helps to continue with livelihood activities.
The campaign highlighted the three key Js:
- Jeevan (life) – Every life and livelihood is precious, so vaccination is key to life and is free.
- Jeevika (livelihood) – You can continue with your Van Dhan Vikas Kendra and livelihood activities without any fear of getting the disease if you are vaccinated. It also saves you from hospitalisation and other opportunity costs.
- Jaagrookta (awareness) – Simplification of the process of registration for vaccination, place, accessibility to different audiences and age groups, especially women and elderly population. Van Dhan Vikas Kendras collaborate and work with other stakeholders with service as a motto and with dedication and commitment that they have a key role to make panchayats and villages coronavirus free.
Steps taken by the Government to support out of school children and children orphaned due to COVID-19
The Department of School Education & Literacy (DOSE&L) has developed an online module for compiling the data of out of school children (OoSC) identified by each state/UT and their mapping with special training centres (STC) on the PRABANDH portal (http://samagrashiksha. in). The concerned state/UT validates the childwise information of the identified OoSC and STC uploaded by the concerned block resource centre of the state to monitor the progress of OoSC mainstreaming. For the first time in 2021-22, under Samagra Shiksha, financial assistance up to Rs 2000 per annum has been envisioned to support out of school children in the age group of 16-19 to complete their education through NIOS/SIOS, to access course materials and certification.
DOSE&L and Ministry of Women & Child Development have issued a joint letter to facilitate the education of children orphaned due to COVID-19. This will be done by bringing them under the fold of the various schemes run by the DOSE&L, and outlining the role of teachers, district education officers and child welfare committees.
B.1.617.2, known as the Delta variant, is around 40-60 per cent more transmissible than the Alpha variant: INSACOG
In a recent interview, Dr NK Arora, co-chair, Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG) elaborates on the standard operating procedure (SOP) for testing and follow-up on variants, what makes the Delta variant so transmissible, how genomic surveillance can help contain its spread, and also reemphasises the importance of COVID-19 appropriate behaviour
Recently INSACOG expanded its reach. What is the thought behind its expansion?
There is a need to keep a strict vigil on the emergence of variants of concern and outbreaks so that they can be contained before they spread to a larger region. The Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG), established in December 2020, was a consortium of 10 laboratories. Recently 18 more laboratories became part of it.
The idea is to have a strong network of laboratories to do genomic surveillance of SARS-CoV-2 and correlate whole genomics sequencing (WGS) data with clinical and epidemiological data to see: whether or not a variant is more transmissible; causes more severe disease; escapes immunity or causes breakthrough infections; affects vaccine efficacy; and can be diagnosed by current diagnostic tests.
Then the National Center for Disease Control (NCDC) analyses this data. The entire country has been divided into geographical regions and each lab is given the responsibility of one particular region. We have formed 180-190 clusters with around four districts in each cluster. Regular random swab samples and samples of patients, who develop severe illness, vaccine breakthrough infections, and other atypical clinical presentations, are collected and sent to regional laboratories for sequencing. The current capacity of the country is to sequence over 50,000 samples per month; earlier it was approximately 30,000 samples.
What kind of mechanism does the country have for testing and follow up on variants?
ndia has a well-established mechanism of Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme (IDSP). The IDSP coordinates sample collection and transportation from the districts/sentinel sites to Regional Genome Sequencing Laboratories (RGSL). The RGSLs are responsible for genome sequencing and identification of variants of concern (VOC), variants of interest (VOI), potential variants of interest and other mutations. Information on VOC/VOI is directly submitted to the central surveillance unit for clinical-epidemiological correlation in coordination with state surveillance officers. The samples are then sent to the designated bio banks.
RGSLs, upon identification of a genomic mutation, which could be of public health relevance, submit the same to Scientific and Clinical Advisory Group (SCAG). SCAG, thereafter, discusses the potential variants of interest and other mutations with experts and if necessary, recommends to the central surveillance unit for further investigation.
Sharing of information and clinical-epidemiological correlation is done by IDSP, a unit of NCDC, along with the Ministry of Health, the Indian Council for Medical Research, Department of Biotechnology, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and state authorities.
Finally, the new mutations/variants of concern are cultured and scientific studies are undertaken to see the impact on infectiousness, virulence, vaccine efficacy and immune escape properties.
The Delta variant has been in focus as a global concern. What makes this variant so virulent?
B.1.617.2, a variant of COVID-19 is known as the Delta variant. It was first identified in October 2020 in India, and was primarily responsible for the second wave in the country. It, today, accounts for over 80 per cent of the new Covid-19 cases. It emerged in Maharashtra and travelled northwards along the western states of the country before entering the central and the eastern states.
It has mutations in its spike protein, which helps it bind to the ACE2 receptors present on the surface of the cells more firmly, making it more transmissible and capable of evading the body’s immunity. It is around 40-60 per cent more transmissible than its predecessor (Alpha variant) and has already spread to more than 80 countries, including the UK, the USA, Singapore, and so on.
Does it also cause more severe disease as compared to other variants?
There are studies that show that there are some mutations in this variant that promote syncytium formation. Besides, on invading a human cell, it replicates faster. It leads to a strong inflammatory response in organs like the lungs. However, it is difficult to say that disease due to the delta variant is more severe. The age profile and deaths during the second wave in India were quite similar to that seen during the first wave.
Is Delta Plus variant more aggressive than Delta variant?
The Delta Plus variant – AY.1 and AY.2 – has so far been detected in 55-60 cases across 11 states, including Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, and Madhya Pradesh. AY.1 is also found in countries like Nepal, Portugal, Switzerland, Poland, Japan but AY.2 is less prevalent. The variant is still being studied for its transmissibility, virulence, and vaccines escape characteristics.
Are the vaccines effective against the Delta variant?
Yes, the current vaccines are effective against the Delta variant as per the studies undertaken by ICMR on the issue.
Some parts of the country are still witnessing a spurt in the number of cases. Why?
Though there is a significant dip in the number of cases in most parts of the country, some regions are witnessing a high-test positivity rate (TPR) particularly in the north-eastern parts of the country and several districts in the southern states, most of these cases could be due to the Delta variant.
Can future waves be prevented?
A virus begins infecting a part of the population, which is most susceptible and also exposed to the infection. It diminishes after it successfully infects a large proportion of the population and strikes back when the immunity developed in the people post-natural infection fades. The cases may go up if a new, more infectious variant comes. In other words, the next wave will be driven by a virus variant to which a significant proportion of population is susceptible.
The second wave is still going on. Any future waves will be controlled and delayed if more and more people get vaccinated and most importantly, people follow COVID-19 appropriate behaviour effectively, especially till a substantial part of our population gets vaccinated.
People need to focus on vaccination and adherence to COVID-19 appropriate behaviour to manage COVID-19.
PM addresses CoWin Global Conclave as India offers CoWIN platform as a digital public good to the world to combat COVID-19
The Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi addressed the CoWin Global Conclave as India offered the CoWIN platform as a digital public good to the world to combat COVID-19.
The Prime Minister began by conveying his condolences for all the lives lost to the pandemic, in all the countries. The Prime Minister remarked that there is no parallel to such a pandemic in hundred years and no nation, however powerful, can solve a challenge like this in isolation. “The biggest lesson from the COVID-19 pandemic is that for humanity and the human cause, we have to work together and move ahead together. We have to learn from each other and guide each other about our best practices,” said the Prime Minister.
Underlining India’s commitment towards sharing experiences, expertise and resources with the global community,the Prime Minister also expressed India’s eagerness to learn from global practices. Emphasising the importance of technology in the fight against the pandemic, Shri Modi said that software is one area in which there are no resource constraints. That’s why India made its Covid tracking and tracing app an open source as soon as it was technically feasible. He pointed out that with nearly 200 million users the Aarogya Setu app is a readily available package for developers. Having been used in India, the Prime Minister told the global audience that they can be sure that it has been tested in the real world for speed and scale.
The Prime Minister said that given the importance of vaccination, India decided to adopt a completely digital approach while planning its vaccination strategy. This helps people in proving that they have been vaccinated, expediting the normalcy in the post pandemic globalised world. A safe, secure and trustworthy proof helps people to establish when, where and by whom they have been vaccinated. Digital approach also helps in tracking the usage of vaccination and minimises wastage.
In line with India’s philosophy of considering the whole world as one family, the Prime Minister said, Covid vaccination platform CoWin is being prepared to be made open source. Soon, it will be available to any and all countries.
The Prime Minister informed that through CoWin, India has administered 350 million doses of Covid vaccines, including nine million people in one day, a few days ago. Furthermore, the vaccinated people do not need to carry around fragile pieces of paper to prove anything. It is all available in digital format. The Prime Minister also highlighted the customisability to the software as per the local requirements of the interested countries. The Prime Minister concluded with the hope that guided by the ‘One Earth, One Health’ approach, humanity will certainly overcome this pandemic.
Website link: https://pib.gov.in/PressReleseDetailm.aspx?PRID=1732812
NITI Aayog releases report on not-for-profit hospital model in India
NITI Aayog today released a comprehensive study on a not-for-profit hospital model in the country. It is a step towards closing the information gap on such institutions and facilitating robust policymaking in this area.
“There has been relatively low investment in the expansion of the health sector in the private domain. The stimulus announced yesterday provides us an opportunity to change this situation. The report on the not-for-profit sector is a small step in that direction,” said Dr V.K. Paul, Member (Health), NITI Aayog.
The report was released by Dr Paul, in the presence of CEO Mr Amitabh Kant, Additional Secretary, Dr Rakesh Sarwal, and representatives of hospitals across the country who participated in the study.
The study provides insights into the operation model of not-for-profit hospitals. It presents researchbased findings on such hospitals – categorised under ownership and premise of service – and makes subsequent comparisons with private hospitals and health schemes of the Union Government.
NITI Aayog has been extensively studying the private sector healthcare delivery landscape in the country. While there exists adequate information on for-profit healthcare providers and institutions there is a dearth of reliable and structured information on their not-for-profit counterparts, known for their tireless service in making quality healthcare accessible and affordable to everyone.
The not-for-profit hospital sector provides not only curative but also preventive healthcare. It links healthcare with social reform, community engagement, and education. It uses government resources and grants to provide cost-effective healthcare to people without being concerned about profits. However, over the years, this sector has remained understudied.
The study discusses in detail the cost containment strategies implemented by not-for-profit hospitals. It seeks to understand the challenges that burden the operations of these institutions and hinder their growth.
The report proposes short- and long-term policy interventions, such as developing criteria to identify these hospitals, ranking them through a performance index, and promoting top hospitals for practicing philanthropy, among others. It also highlights the need to use the expertise of these hospitals in managing human resources with limited finance in remote areas..
Contact Info: health-pc[at]gov[dot]in
Both pregnant woman and child can be saved by COVID-19 vaccine:COVID-19 Working Group Chairman
Dr NK Arora, Chairperson of the COVID-19 Working Group of NTAGI spoke during the press conference regarding the vaccination guidelines for pregnant women, issued by the Health Ministry. Dr Arora informed that the increased mortality of pregnant women during the second wave of COVID-19 led to this decision. “During the second wave, it was seen that mortality rates of pregnant women infected by COVID-19 had increased by two to three times, in comparison to the first wave. In such a situation, it was felt that pregnant women should also become beneficiaries of the COVID-19 vaccine. In case of pregnant women, it involves the safety of two lives – the mother and the child in her womb. Hence, the country has decided to vaccinate pregnant women.””
He stated that mothers will be benefitted more by this vaccine; they will remain free from fear and anxiety about coronavirus. “The child growing in the mother’s womb can also be saved by this vaccination. If the mother develops immunity, it will be passed on to the foetus. The effect of the vaccine and immunity developed in the mother’s body will remain in the child at least till the time of birth.”
Safety of vaccines for pregnant women>
In reply to a query on how safe vaccines will be for pregnant women, Dr Arora pointed out that “By and large, our vaccines have been found to be safe. Even in western countries like in Europe and North America where mRNA vaccines are being given, pregnant women are being vaccinated. Looking at these facts and figures, a decision has been taken to vaccinate pregnant women in our country.”
Some doubts and fear were expressed about vaccinating a pregnant mother in the first trimester as the child’s organs begin forming in that period. Addressing these doubts, Dr Arora assured the safety of the vaccine for the mother as well as for the child. “I would like to dispel these fears and assure people that our vaccines do not contain any live virus which can cause infection. Thus, it does not seem that the vaccine will have any ill-effect on the child growing in the mother’s womb.”
He added that pregnant women receiving vaccines will be tracked, to ensure their safety. “All pregnant women who will be vaccinated around the country will be tracked by means of a network to monitor signs of discomfort. Foetal outcomes, that is, growth of the child in the mother’s womb, will also be monitored. This will assure us that our mothers, sisters and daughters are fully safe post-vaccination.”
Speaking about post-vaccination side-effects faced by pregnant women, Dr Arora said: “One in 10 lakh women have experienced bleeding or formation of clots. The symptoms that manifest are severe headache, vomiting along with headache, stomach ache along with vomiting tendency or also breathing problems. By and large, three or four symptoms may happen and they generally happen within a period of three to four weeks after vaccination. In such cases, family members should quickly take the pregnant woman to a Covid vaccine hospital. The reason for the illness can be investigated at the hospital and the required treatment provided.”
ejustify"> When can pregnant women take the vaccine?
Pregnant women can take the vaccine at any time, informs the Chairperson. “As per the decision taken, COVID-19 vaccine can be given to pregnant women at any point of time during the pregnancy. It does not matter whether the vaccine is being given in the first, second or third trimester.”
Website link: https://pib.gov.in/PressReleseDetailm.aspx?PRID=1732327
States to take up immediate containment measures, enhanced testing, tracking and vaccination in districts and clusters where the Delta Plus variant is found
The Government of India, in active collaboration with the states has been proactively working towards effective COVID-19 management by sustained strengthening of multi-level health and testing infrastructure, and through focussed public health measures. The Union Health Ministry has from time to time alerted the state governments on critical points in the trajectory of COVID-19 for implementing an effective public health response under a ‘whole of government’ approach.
Based on the recent findings of Indian SARS-CoV-2 Consortium on Genomics (INSACOG), the Union Health Ministry has alerted and advised Maharashtra, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh about finding the Delta Plus variant of COVID-19 in some districts in these states.
The Union Health Secretary has communicated to these three states that this variant has been found in genome sequenced samples from Ratnagiri and Jalgaon districts of Maharashtra; Palakkad and Pathanamthitta districts of Kerala; and Bhopal and Shivpuri Districts of Madhya Pradesh.
INSACOG is a consortium of 28 laboratories of the MoHFW, Department of Biotechnology, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) for whole genome sequencing vis-a-vis the COVID-19 pandemic. INSACOG is tasked with not just the whole genome sequencing but also to give timely inputs on appropriate public health response measures to be adopted by states and UTs. INSACOG has informed that the Delta Plus variant, currently a variant of concern (VOC), has the following characteristics:
- Increased transmissibility
- Stronger binding to receptors of lung cells
- Potential reduction in monoclonal antibody response
The Union Health Ministry has advised Maharashtra, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh that the public health response measures, while broadly remaining the same as have been implemented by them earlier, have to become more focussed and effective. The chief secretaries of the states have been advised to take up immediate containment measures in the districts and clusters (as identified by INSACOG) including preventing crowds and intermingling of people, widespread testing, prompt tracing as well as vaccine coverage on a priority basis.
They were also advised to ensure that adequate samples of positive persons are promptly sent to the designated laboratories of INSACOG so that clinical epidemiological correlations can be made for further guidance to be provided to states.
Website link: https://pib.gov.in/PressReleseDetailm.aspx?PRID=1729467
Quick vaccination is key to open the economy and go back to normal:NITI Aayog
Member (Health), NITI Aayog, Dr V Paul, while speaking to DD News informed that India administered nearly 81 lakh vaccine doses, on the first day when the revised guidelines for Covid vaccination came into force.
A sign of India’s ability to vaccinate at scale: He said that the day one vaccination figures demonstrate India’s ability to carry out vaccination on a large scale for days and weeks together. “All this was possible because of planning and coordination between the Central and state governments and taking up the task work in mission mode,” added Dr Paul.
“Whether or not the third wave occurs is in our hands”: Dr Paul reminded that a third wave can be stopped if Covid appropriate behaviour is followed and majority of the people get vaccinated. “Why will there be a third wave if we follow Covid appropriate behaviour and get ourselves vaccinated? There are many countries where even the second wave has not arrived; if we follow Covid appropriate behaviour, this period will pass.”
Fast vaccination is key to going back to normal: The NITI Aayog Member underscored the importance of fast vaccination to enable India to open its economy and resume normal work. “We need to do our daily work, maintain our social life, open schools, businesses, take care of our economy; we will be able to do all this only when we are able to vaccinate at a fast pace.”
“Vaccines are saving lives, now is the best time to take the vaccine”: Dr Paul said that it is a big mistake to think that our vaccines are unsafe. “All vaccines of the world have been approved under emergency use authorisation, just like our vaccines. People from various sections of society have taken these. The second wave has now receded and it is the best time to take the Covid vaccine,” he added.
Dr Paul also pointed out how the decision to vaccinate the health workers on priority protected them during the second wave. “Very few healthcare workers got infected, otherwise, our hospitals themselves would have collapsed during the second wave, so please be assured that people are being saved from infection due to the vaccine.”
Public participation and awareness essential to remove vaccine hesitancy
The NTAGI Chairperson, Dr N Arora emphasised the significance of people’s participation and public awareness to avoid rumours and misconceptions against vaccination. “Jan bhagidari and jan jagran are very essential to eradicate the fear of vaccination. Ultimately it is in the hands of the public to come forward and get vaccinated.”
He also mentioned that preparations have been made for spreading awareness about the vaccination and ASHA workers and frontline workers have already started working from grass roots levels to fight vaccine hesitancy.
“There will not be any issue regarding vaccine supply”: The Chairperson assured that there won’t be any issue regarding the availability of vaccine. “We will have around 20-22 crore doses next month.” Dr Arora also assured that the health infrastructure is well spread out to ensure that the vaccination drive reaches every corner of the country including hilly, tribal and very sparsely populated areas.
No need to change the current dosage interval of Covishield vaccine: Responding to a query on the dosage interval of Covishield vaccines, the Chairperson said that no need is felt at themoment to change the interval. “We are collecting data under the national vaccine tracking system and doing real-time evaluation regarding the effectiveness of vaccines, dose interval, region-wise impact, variants, etc.; at present, no need is felt for changing the dose interval of Covishield. The basic principle is that our people should get maximum benefit from every dose of the vaccine. We find that the current dosages are proving to be beneficial.” He added that at the same time, nothing is written in stone.
Website link: https://pib.gov.in/PressReleseDetailm.aspx?PRID=1729282
NITI Aayog answers why new waves of any endemic happen?
“There are countries where even the second wave has not occurred. If we do what is required and do not indulge in irresponsible behaviour, then outbreak should not occur. This is a simple epidemiological principle.” So said Dr V Paul while explaining the reasons for the emergence of new pandemic waves and how it can be controlled or even avoided by following Covid appropriate behaviour and taking measures such as vaccination. He was addressing the Union Health Ministry’s media briefing on COVID-19, held at the National Media Centre, PIB Delhi.
Why do new waves happen?
“Dr Paul said there are four elements leading to the formation of a new wave.
1) Behaviour of the virus: The virus has the capacity and ability to spread.
2) Susceptible host: Virus keeps looking for susceptible hosts for it to survive. So, if we are not protected either via vaccination or by previous infection, then we are a susceptible host.
3) Transmissibility: The virus can become smart enough where it mutates and becomes more transmissible. The same virus that used to infect three hosts becomes capable of infecting 13! This factor is unpredictable. No one can pre-plan to fight such mutations. The change of the very nature of the virus and its transmissibility is an X factor and no one can predict when and where it may happen.
4) Opportunity: Which we give the virus to infect. If we sit and eat together, crowd, sit in closed areas without masks, then the virus gets more opportunities to spread.
A call to do what is in our hands
The NITI Aayog Member reminds us what is in our hands. “Of the above four, two elements– susceptibility and opportunities – are totally under our control whereas the other two – behaviour and transmissibility – cannot be predicted or controlled. So, if we are protected and ensure we are not susceptible, then the virus will not be able to survive. We can control the susceptibility by wearing a mask or getting vaccinated. Hence if we decrease opportunities by following Covid appropriate behaviour and decrease susceptibility to infection, then a third wave will not occur.”
Dr Paul also called for collective efforts of the citizens as well as the system to stop another wave. “Some of these require individual efforts, while some others such as isolation of clusters, contact tracing, ensuring testing capacity and building awareness require the system to act.”
“Decision to open schools has to be taken very cautiously”
Speaking about easing restrictions and reopening of schools, Dr Paul said that the decision has to be taken cautiously and that we should take risks only when we are protected. “A school is a crowd, a medium or large gathering, which gives an opportunity for the virus to infect. So, we should take that risk only when we are better protected, the virus is suppressed and we are able to sit at a distance. It is not easy to take the decision to open schools when an unpredictable situation is prevalent.” He also mentioned that the virus is suppressed at present due to discipline and restrictions prevalent in many states, if we ease restrictions and open schools, then the virus gets opportunities to infect.
Website link: https://pib.gov.in/PressReleseDetailm.aspx?PRID=1729477
Indian Chest Society describes CSIR-CMERI’s oxygen enrichment technology as ‘Made in India, Made for India’
A webinar on ‘The Element of Hope in the COVID Era: Oxygen’ was organised by the Indian Chest Society in association with CSIR-CMERI on 27 June 2021. Prof Harish Hirani, Director, CSIR-CMERI, was the chief speaker at the virtual event. The webinar was attended by expert panellists comprising Dr Deepak Talwar, Dr Neeraj Gupta, Dr Subhakar Kandi and Dr Dhrubajyoti Roy. They are all eminent Pulmonologists and senior members of the Indian Chest Society. Dr D Behera moderated the entire virtual panel discussion, on behalf of the Indian Chest Society.
Prof Hirani, in his address shared that the human body rejects a substantial portion of oxygen during the process of exhaling. During high flow oxygen therapy, the exhaled oxygen can be trapped, which in turn will decrease the oxygen load to a great extent. The CSIR-CMERI Oxygen Enrichment Unit (OEU) encompasses the functionality and goes beyond that of an oxygen concentrator. Since, the MSMEs are the pillar of the Indian economy, CSIR-CMERI has organised a series of virtual awareness exercises to bring them into the fold. As part of this initiative the technology has already been handed over to a number of MSMEs across India, who in turn will help in the diffusion of the technology. The licensees have also very innovatively upgraded the aesthetics and ergonomics of the technology.
CSIR-CMERI is working upon an advanced oxygen mask technology, which will provide protection against this transmission of viral load. It has a separate supply and exhaled air passage. The exhaled air passage/channel is equipped with CO2 scrubber and BV filter. These innovative applications are a step towards the possibility of recycling oxygen from the exhaled air. Such technologies are also ideal for isolation wards/quarantine zones, where there is an air recirculation environment.
An advanced OEU for oxygenated hospital beds in rural areas is also being worked upon which will have independent flow rate and FiO2 controls. CSIR-CMERI is also working towards the development of 50 LPM and 100 LPM hospital model oxygen enrichment technologies. Another hybrid system configuration for existing hospitals will be able to function along with oxygen cylinders and oxygen lines of the hospitals through an in-built intelligent controller system to complement cylinder stocked oxygen with enriched oxygen. These advancements will facilitate the decentralised usage of the technology for 5-20 patients. The cost of the CSIR-CMERI oxygen technology is lesser than 50 per cent when compared with centralised oxygen generation technologies available in the market.
Dr Deepak Talwar, Specialist Pulmonologist and Member of the Governing Body of the Chest Society presented his discussion over various indication of oxygen therapy and shared that Prof. Hirani’s idea of ‘Make in India, Make for India’ is brilliant. He also discussed pneumonia related hypoxia and the existing and chronic respiratory issues. He also shared that the studies show that in 85 per cent of the cases the patients do not require oxygen and in moderate to severe cases only oxygen therapy is needed to maintain a saturation level of 90. He also shared that the proper saturation level is 92-96 per cent and above 96 per cent level may be also harmful.
Dr Neeraj Gupta, Senior Chest Specialist Physician and Member, Governing Body of the Chest Society found Prof Hirani’s lecture to be very encouraging. He also asked for comparison between pressure swing adsorption (PSA) plants and CSIR-CMERI developed OEU and the possible number of patients to be catered to with this institute developed device. He later shared his ideas on different delivery methods of oxygen at low flow and high flow rates. Talking about the advantages and disadvantages of the different methods, Dr Gupta said that the nasal cannula though is a comfortable method, yet it may cause dryness of nose and throat to the patient too.
Dr Subhakar Kandi, Senior Chest Specialist Physician and Member, Governing Body of the Chest Society said the CSIR-CMERI developed indigenous device is the need of the hour. He lauded Prof Hirani for the innovative device, which may be customised depending upon the requirement and needs of the patients. Dr Kandi later spoke on the mechanism of hypoxia and various types of masks used for oxygen therapy. He also pointed out that liquid oxygen, which has a purity of 99.5 per cent may be utilised for patients in ICUs whereas devices such as that developed by CSIR-CMERI may be utilised for patients under non-critical conditions as well as during the post-hospitalisation care at home.
Dr. D Roy, Senior Chest Specialist Physician and Member, Governing Body of the Chest Society discussed the sources of medical oxygen. He welcomed the idea and Prof Hirani’s presentation on the oxygen enrichment system and said that he described the topic and the technology very correctly. Dr Roy talked about the different sources of oxygen in hospitals like pressurised oxygen cylinders, liquid oxygen, concentrators, etc. He also mentioned some of the disadvantages of oxygen concentrators.
Dr D Behera, Specialist Pulmonologist and President, Indian Chest Society while moderating the discussion talked about the history and discovery of oxygen by Joseph Priestley and said that its importance has been recognised by everybody in the pandemic. He also applauded Prof Hirani and CSIR-CMERI for dissemination of awareness about the oxygen enrichment technology and enquired about the cost aspects of the different oxygen enrichment technologies developed by CSIR-CMERI. Dr Behera said that they are the end users and stressed upon the need for educating the society particularly the nursing staff about the innovations and technology diffusions. For this, he wished to arrange similar awareness programmes for the benefits of the nursing staffs and the MSME sectors.
Website link: https://pib.gov.in/PressReleseDetailm.aspx?PRID=1730720
PM launches Customised Crash Course Programme for COVID-19 Frontline Workers
On 18 June Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi launched ‘Customized Crash Course Programme for COVID-19 Frontline Workers’ via video conferencing. The training programme would be conducted in 111 training centres spread over 26 states. About one lakh frontline workers will be trained in this initiative. The Union Minister of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship Dr Mahendra Nath Pandey and many other Union Ministers, Ministers from States, experts and other stakeholders were also present on the occasion
Addressing the event, the Prime Minister said that this launch is an important step in the fight against Corona. He cautioned that the virus is present and possibility of mutation is also there. The second wave of the pandemic illustrated the kind of challenges the virus may present to us. The country needs to stay prepared to meet the challenges, and training more than one lakh frontline warriors is a step in that direction, said the Prime Minister
The Prime Minister reminded us that the pandemic has tested the strength of every country, institution, society, family and person of the world. At the same time, this alerted us to expand our capabilities as science, government, society, institution or individuals. India took up this challenge and status of PPE kits, testing and other medical infrastructure related to COVID care and treatment bears testimony to the efforts. He pointed out that far-flung hospitals are being provided with ventilators and oxygen concentrators. More than 1500 oxygen plants are being established at war footing. Amidst all these efforts, skilled manpower is critical. For this and to support the current force of corona warriors one lakh youth is being trained. This training should be over in two-three months, said the Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister informed that the top experts of the country have designed these six courses, as per demands of the States and Union Territories. The training will be imparted to COVID warriors in six customised job roles namely Home Care Support, Basic Care Support, Advanced Care Support, Emergency Care Support, Sample Collection Support, and Medical Equipment Support. This will include fresh skilling as well as up-skilling of those who have some training in this type of work. This campaign will give fresh energy to the health sector frontline force and will also provide job opportunities to our youth.
The Prime Minister said that the Corona period has proved how important the mantra of skill, re-skill and up-skill. The Prime Minister said the Skill India Mission was started separately for the first time in the country, a Skill Development Ministry was created and the Prime Minister’s Skill Development Centres were opened across the country. Today Skill India Mission is helping millions of this country’s youth every year in providing training according to the needs of the day. Since last year the Ministry of Skill Development has trained lakhs of health workers across the country, even amidst the pandemic.
The Prime Minister said given the size of our population, it is necessary to keep increasing the number of doctors, nurses and paramedics in the health sector. Work has been done with a focused approach over the last 7 years to start new AIIMS, new medical colleges and new nursing colleges. Similarly, reforms are being encouraged in medical education and related institutions. The seriousness and the pace at which the work on preparing the health professionals is going on now are unprecedented
The Prime Minister said that health professionals like ASHA workers, ANM, Anganwadi and health workers deployed in the dispensaries of the villages are one of the strong pillars of our health sector and are often left out of the discussion. They are playing an important role in preventing infection to support the world’s largest vaccination campaign. The Prime Minister lauded these health workers for their work during all the adversities for the safety of each and every countryman. He said their role is huge in preventing the spread of infection in villages in remote areas and in hilly and tribal areas.
The Prime Minister said many guidelines have been issued related to the campaign which is to start from 21 June. People below 45 years of age will get the same treatment for vaccination as for people above 45 years of age from 21 June. The Union Government is committed to give free vaccines to every citizen while following corona protocol.
The Prime Minister wished the trainees and said he believed that their new skills will be used in saving the lives of the countrymen.
Outreach initiatives by India Science Channel
India Science is an Internet-based Over-The-Top (OTT) Science TV channel. It is an initiative of the Department of Science and Technology (DST), Government of India, implemented and managed by Vigyan Prasar (VP), an autonomous organisation of the DST. This 24x7 video platform is dedicated to science and technology knowledge dissemination, with a strong commitment to spreading scientific awareness, especially with Indian perspectives, ethos and cultural milieu. The initiative is supported by the National Council of Science and Technology Communication (NCSTC), DST.
Science and Technology are the main driving forces of the nation and fundamental to progress and growth. So, the advantages of science and technology must reach all sections of the society through popular media of communication. India’s large Internet user base of 500 million is split between 305 million urban Indians and 195 million rural Indians, all of whom need to be reached with authentic science and technology content. And to do so, the Internet is fast becoming the most accessible and preferred media for content delivery.
Since the occurrence of COVID-19, India Science has been working tirelessly to connect with the people, in the form of regular bulletins, documentaries, interviews, bytes and live sessions of scientists, doctors, experts, science administrators and policymakers. The following is a brief account of the information products produced by India Science. .
1. Weekly COVID-19 video bulletin: Produced in both Hindi and English on weekly basis from 7 July 2020, COVID-19 bulletin apprises the audience about the latest developments happening in the S&T scenario in India that are helping in managing and overcoming the challenges thrown up by the pandemic. Vigyan Prasar produced daily COVID-19 Bulletin from 11 April to 06 July 2020. Thereafter, a weekly bulletin is being produced which provides details about the most important S&T updates from the country related to COVID-19. From January 2021 onwards the COVID-19 Bulletin carried news about vaccination drive initiated by the Government of India.
2. COVID-19 Explained: Short films to explain the important research findings related to COVID-19 and COVID-19 vaccination in layman’s language are produced on weekly basis.The topics chosen for COVID-19 Explained cater to the curiosity of common man towards COVID-19.
3. Facebook live sessions on interviews of various stakeholders on COVID-19 Vaccination programme.
4. Facebook and India Science live sessions on interviews with experts on COVID-19 Vaccination.
5. Live Phone in programme: A live phone in programme on COVID-19 vaccination is telecasted from India Science on every Monday and Tuesday. Experts from the field give answers to the questions related to COVID-19 vaccination received from the audience.
6. India Science started “Corona Ko Harana Hai” from April, 2021. In this programme India Science team take interview on COVID-19-related different issues with top medical professionals of the country.
7. India Science makes infographics on COVID-19-related different issues regularly.
8. COVID-19 Vaccine: Fact File also telecast every Saturday from India Science.
Contact Info: kapil[at]vigyanprasar[dot]gov[dot]in
Website link: https://www.indiascience.in/
COVID-19 in Children: Threats & Precautions – An outreaching effort by CSIR-NIScPR
CSIR-National Institute of Science communication and Policy Research (NIScPR), New Delhi organized a half-day online session on COVID-19 in children on 4 June 2021. The session was focused on the recent second wave outbreak and the impact of COVID-19 on children, threats and necessary protocols required for the safety of children. The Chief Guest of the webinar was Dr V. Vijayalakshmi; Additional Commissioner (Academics), KVS (HQ), New Delhi and the Guest speaker was Prof. Dr R. Somasekar, Professor of Paediatrics, Sree Balaji Medical College & Hospital (SBMCH), Chennai, Tamil Nadu and Executive Board Member 2021, Indian Academy of Paediatrics (IAP).
Dr Ranjana Aggarwal, Director CSIR-NIScPR, in her introductory remarks highlighted the incredible bonding between two great institutions, the Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR) and the institute with Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan (KVS) in the form of JIGYASA, a student-scientist connect initiative that was kick-started in mid-2017, with the purpose of inculcating ‘Scientific Temper’ among school students and make them science oriented. Further, she added that the ‘JIGYASA’ has indeed created a commendable impact not only on the students, but also among the scientists. She said ‘JIGYASA’ provides opportunity for students to interact with the scientists directly and thereby motivates the young minds for innovative thinking and approach. In the long run, it is expected to deliver impressive results, especially in terms of S&T developments, which is beneficial to the society.
Dr V. Vijayalakshmi, Additional Commissioner (Academics), KVS, in her address stated that JIGYASA is like a dream coming true for the students as it provides a platform to interact with the scientists and also witness their work closely. This association has been quite successful for their institution as the students are excited about the various types of engagements that it ensures all through year. Dr Vijayalakshmi said that the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic has affected every sphere of our lives, most importantly social life, and passively affected the children’s psyche denying them their right to play, be it with their peers, apart from their studies. She recollected how the teachers became IT-savvy technocrats overnight to cope with pressure of educating the children.
Prof. R. Somasekar, the Professor of Paediatrics from SBMCH, Chennai and EB Member, IAP, delivered a comprehensive keynote address “COVID-19 in Children: Threats & Precautions” covering minute details on the subject. He said COVID-19 in children is still moderate. Though children are vulnerable to the SARS-CoV-2 virus, still the majority of them are asymptomatic and only 1-2% had to go for hospitalization. Dr Somasekar cautioned the parents about the chances of transmission of infection from adults and the increasing gastrointestinal symptoms among children these days. He explained how to identify and differentiate COVID-19 symptoms from other flu and common cold. Dr Somasekar said that COVID-19 has so far not affected children much in India, other than the state of Karnataka, and discussed various COVID-19 treatment options for children. Taking the session forward he suggested some measures to adopt in our day-to-day life which include physical exercise, playing with kids, avoiding junk food, good sleep, wearing masks, balanced diet, and age-appropriate vaccination. Most importantly, he advised a close watch for symptoms and change in kid’s behaviour
Contact Info: somu[at]niscair[dot]res[dot]in
Website link: https://pib.gov.in/PressReleseDetail.aspx?PRID=1724633
Kiren Rijiju releases e-book on 20 Medicinal Plants for Covid-19 Care
Minister of State for Ayush (IC), Shri Kiren Rijiju, released an e-book on 20 Medicinal Plants for Covid-19 Care on 8 June. National Medicinal Plants Board (NMPB) has prepared this e-book to highlight important medicinal plants and their therapeutic properties. These medicinal plants are useful in prevention and management of COVID-19 along with standard of care.
The herbs described in the e-book can be used in conditions leading to fever, cough, cold, weakness, pain etc. The botanical names, regional names, chemical constituents, therapeutic values, pharmacological principles and important formulations are also added in this e-book. This will provide awareness and knowledge to the public on the importance and diversity of medicinal plants that are useful in prevention and management of COVID-19 along with standard of care
While releasing the book Shri Rijiju encouraged NMPB to promote cultivation and conservation of medicinal plants throughout the country. Secretary, Ministry of Ayush, Vaidya Shri Rajesh Kotecha appreciated the efforts of NMPB for cultivation, conservation and marketing of medicinal plants throughout the country. Dr J.L.N. Sastry, CEO, NMPB emphasized to create the awareness among local masses for better understanding about the usage of herbal medicines.
Website link: https://pib.gov.in/PressReleasePage.aspx?PRID=1725423
Decision to increase gap between Covishield doses taken on scientific evidence in a transparent manner: NTAGI
On 16 June, Chairman of India’s COVID-19 Working Group of the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI), Dr N.K. Arora, spoke to DD News on India’s COVID-19 vaccination drive.
Dr N.K. Arora explained that the decision to increase the gap between two Covishield doses from 4-6 weeks to 12-16 weeks lay in the fundamental scientific reason regarding behaviour of adenovector vaccines. “In the last week of April, 2021 the data released by Public Health England, United Kingdom’s executive agency of the Department of Health, showed that vaccine efficacy varied between 65-88% when the interval is 12 weeks. This was the basis on which they overcame their epidemic outbreak due to the Alpha variant. The UK was able to come out of it because the interval they kept was 12 weeks. We also thought that this is a good idea, since there are fundamental scientific reasons to show that when the interval is increased, adenovector vaccines give better response. Hence the decision was taken on May 13, to increase the interval to 12-16 weeks.” This also gives flexibility to the community, since everyone cannot come at precisely 12 weeks or so, he added.
He empathically highlighted the fact that the decision to increase the gap between two doses of Covishield vaccine was taken based on scientific evidence. “We have a very open and transparent system where decisions are taken on cientific basis. The COVID Working Group took that decision, with no dissenting voice. This issue was then discussed threadbare at an NTAGI meeting, again with no dissenting notes. The recommendation was that the vaccine interval has to be 12-16 weeks.” Dr Arora said that the earlier decision of four weeks was based upon the bridging trial data available then. He also cited that the increase in gap between two doses was based on studies that showed higher efficacy with increase in gap. “Initial studies on Covishield were very heterogeneous. Some countries like the UK went for a dose interval of 12 weeks when they introduced the vaccine, in December 2020. While we were privy to this data, when we had to decide our interval, we went for four weeks interval based on our bridging trial data which showed good immune response. Later we came across additional scientific and laboratory data, based on which after six weeks or so, we felt we should increase the interval from four weeks to eight weeks, since studies showed that vaccine efficacy is about 57% when it is four weeks and about 60% when it is eight weeks.”
Speaking about why the NTAGI did not increase the gap earlier to 12 weeks, he said, “We decided we should wait for ground-level data from the UK (the other biggest user of AstraZeneca vaccine).”
He also said that there were other examples like Canada, Sri Lanka and few other countries which are using 12-16 weeks interval for AstraZeneca vaccine which is same as Covishield.
Protection from Single Dose versus Two Doses:
Dr Arora explained how emerging evidence and reports regarding efficacy of partial vs. full immunization were being considered by NTAGI. He stated, “2-3 days after we took the decision to increase the dosage interval, there were reports from UK that single dose of AstraZeneca vaccine gives only 33% protection and two doses give about 60% protection; discussion has been going on since mid-May whether India should revert to four or eight weeks.”
He also said that it was decided to establish a tracking platform to assess the impact of the vaccination programme. “When NTAGI took this decision, we also decided that India will establish a vaccine tracking platform to assess not only the impact of the vaccination programme, but also type of vaccine and interval between doses, and what happens when someone is fully/partially immunized. This is very important in India since around 17-18 crore people have received only one dose, while around 4 crore people have received two doses.”
Dr Arora referred to a study by PGI Chandigarh which compared effectiveness of partial vs. full immunisation. “A PGI Chandigarh study very clearly shows that vaccine effectiveness was 75% for both partially immunized and fully immunized. So at least in the short run, effectiveness was similar whether you are partially or fully vaccinated. This was in relation to the Alpha variant which had swept Punjab, Northern India and came to Delhi. This also meant that even if you received only one dose, still you are protected.”
Results from CMC Vellore study are similar, he says. “Few days back, another very important study by CMC Vellore, Tamil Nadu which covers most of the current epidemic wave India experienced in April and May, 2021 shows that if somebody is partially immunized, vaccine effectiveness of Covishield is 61% and with two doses, the effectiveness is 65%, and there is very little difference, especially since there is some degree of uncertainty involved in these calculations.”
On-going Studies and Monitoring of Vaccine Efficacy:
Dr Arora said that besides PGI and CMC Vellore studies, two other studies are coming up from two different organizations within Delhi. “And both these studies show that breakthrough infection with one dose is around 4%, and around 5% with two doses, basically hardly any difference. And the other study shows that 1.5-2% breakthrough infections.”
Data from various sources will be integrated to assess and report on impact of various aspects of the vaccination programme, says Dr Arora. He added that India also has a robust system for monitoring Adverse Events Following Immunisation (AEFI).
Any proposal to reduce Covishield dosage gap?
Responding to this question, Dr Arora answered that decision will be taken scientifically, giving paramount importance to the health and protection of the community. “COVID-19 and the vaccination are very dynamic. Tomorrow, if the vaccine platform tells us that a narrower interval is better for our people, even if the benefit is 5-10%, the Committee will take the decision on the basis of merit and its wisdom. On the other hand, if it turns out that the current decision is fine, we will continue with it.” He emphasised that ultimately, the health and protection given to our community is paramount. “This is the most important thing which drives our discussions, generation of new scientific evidence and decision-making”, he stressed.
Delta Plus is not yet classified as Variant of Concern
In the context of the public discourse regarding detection of new variants, Member (Health), NITI Aayog, Dr V.K. Paul has reminded the public that the newly detected Delta Plus Variant is not yet classified as a Variant of Concern. “The present status is that yes, a new variant has been found. This is as of now a Variant of Interest (VoI), not as yet classified a Variant of Concern (VoC). VoC is one in which we have understood that there are adverse consequences to humanity, which could be due to increased transmissibility or virulence. We do not know at this moment this about the Delta Plus variant.” Dr Paul stated this, while addressing the COVID-19 Media Briefing at National Media Centre, PIB Delhi earlier this week.
The way forward: Watch, detect, respond
The way forward is to watch for its potential presence in the country and take the appropriate public health response, says Dr Paul. “We need to watch the effect of this change, this variant in a scientific manner; this has been found outside our country. We need to monitor it through The Indian SARS-CoV-2 Consortium on Genomics (INSACOG) in order to assess and detect its potential presence and growth in our country. This is the way forward in relation to the virus.” Dr Paul also mentioned that this will be an important area of future work for our comprehensive system of almost 28 laboratories. The system will constantly watch this and study its significance. This is something which science should and will watch and understand, added Dr Paul.
“No precision weapon to shoot the variants away.”
Dr Paul said that this variant is a reminder about the importance of infection control and containment measures and behaviour. “Remember that there is no way that we can shoot these variants away, to use any precision weapon to ensure that they don’t appear in future. What we need to do is to monitor, understand their behaviour and mount an appropriate response, being conscious of their effects on us. The appropriate response includes the same principles, namely containment measures and COVID-appropriate behaviour.”
He spoke of the importance of addressing the root cause and breaking the chain of transmission. “One of the important tools to tackle any new variant is by following COVID-appropriate behaviour. The root cause is the chain of transmission. So, if we are able to address the root cause and break the chains of transmission, we will be able to contain the spread, whichever the variant may be.”
Errors in replication can lead to emergence of Variants of Concern
Explaining the origin of the Delta Plus variant, Dr Paul said, “During the second wave, Delta variant - B.1.617.2 exhibited its effect; its higher transmissibility played a major role in making the wave intense. Along the same line, an additional mutation has been detected, which has also been submitted to the Global Data System. This has been referred to as the ‘Delta Plus’ or ‘AY.1’ variant. The variant was observed in Europe in March and has been notified and brought into public domain on June 13, just two days ago.”
He went on to explain that mRNA viruses are particularly predisposed to errors in their replication. When errors in replication of their RNA happen, the virus acquires a new character to a certain extent. “At times, it could be significant from the point of view of the disease; it could be in a region such as the spike protein through which the virus attaches to cells in the body. So, if that part becomes smarter than the previous version, it is to our disadvantage. So we are worried about such variants.”
DRDO Secretary informs setting up of 850 oxygen plants in various districts of the country
A total of 850 oxygen plants are being set up in various districts of the country from PM Cares Fund for catering to the needs of the country to fight the pandemic COVID-19, Dr C Satish Reddy, Secretary, Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO), highlighted at the Department of Science & Technology (DST) Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav Discourse Series. He added that DRDO was prepared to provide all kinds of support when the need arises, and more flying hospitals would be ready, as was provided by DRDO in the second wave of COVID-19.
He also underlined how DRDO is primarily carrying out research in advanced technology in defence and also concentrating on developing high-quality technology at lower cost to match international level to be beneficial for the people. Dr Reddy was speaking at the online discourse series New India @ 75, organised by National Council for Science & Technology Communication and Vigyan Prasar.
Prof Ashutosh Sharma, Secretary, DST talked about various steps taken by the Central Government and the DST to fight the pandemic, and how to keep vaccines safe and to ensure it reaches every nook and corner of the country. He also spoke about ways in which Artificial Intelligence (AI) could play a greater role in fighting the pandemic
“Technologies have been developed for storing and transporting vaccines to every nook and corner of the country. New ways of storing vaccines have been developed as per the Indian conditions. Convergence of technologies is the future, and AI can play a great role in diagnostics, telemedicine and will have tremendous importance in remote monitoring, diagnostics and decision-making in fighting pandemic,” Prof. Sharma said.
Speaking about the 50 years of DST, he pointed out that it has been a long journey, and foundational technology has been seeded, establishing DST as a nursery to help, nurture and grow young talents for the progress and development of the country.
COVID 2021: Nation’s S&T Efforts Against COVID-19 – An e-Newsletter on COVID-19
In 2020, India dealt with the first wave of COVID-19 pandemic with collective measures, scientific approach, and awareness. Undoubtedly the second wave of the pandemic is testing our patience and the extent to which we can tolerate its fangs. The impact of the second wave has seen shortage of medical oxygen across the nation. But, the intelligent use of technology and well-planned resource allocation to tackle the new wave of the pandemic has been dealt with at a war-footing. The current edition, COVID 2021: Nation’s S&T Efforts Against COVID-19, has been compiled to inform our readers and strengthen the usefulness of any published information.
To bridge the gap among scientific contributions, leadership and administrative efforts, and the perspective of the general public, Vigyan Prasar is continuously reaching out to its audiences in the shape of a regular e-newsletter, taking its mandate of science communication, popularisation and extension to the next level. Our effort is firmly based on the fact that “Science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom”. The steady increase in the number of recoveries and the significant and continuous decrease in positivity rate provide us the much-needed assurance that this may be the outcome of improving the health infrastructure and making health the cornerstone at the policy level. The e-Newsletter aims to be a handy guide to scientists, researchers, and scholars, especially those who are interested.
Contact Info: covidnewsletter[at]vigyanprasar[dot]gov[dot]in
Outreach initiatives through India Science, Technology and Innovation (ISTI) Web Portal
The India Science, Technology and Innovation Portal (ISTI) is a one-stop window for information about developments in India on science, technology, and innovation, with the vision of providing a single-window source of information on a web portal about all data related to the Indian STI Ecosystem by aggregating information on scientific inputs and outputs, bringing stakeholders together and disseminating science, technology & innovation content. The portal focuses on bringing all stakeholders and Indian STI activities on a single online platform; helping efficient utilisation of resources; highlighting functioning of scientific organisations, laboratories and institutions; aggregating information on science funding, fellowship and award opportunities spanning from school to faculty level; pooling together conferences, seminars and events; and projecting science in India with its major achievements. The ISTI web portal has been developed by Vigyan Prasar, an autonomous organisation of the DST.
In the critical times of outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic, the web portal serves as a one-stop online information guide to bring together a collection of resources in response to COVID-19. These resources are generated by efforts made by numerous initiatives and schemes taken up by several Departments and Ministries of Government of India and numerous institutions spread across the country. The content presented here relies on the best available scientific understanding of the disease and its transmission.
The web portal provided all information related to COVID-19, from presentation of symptoms, to vaccine science and distribution strategy. It contains content on fact-checks and myth-busters in questions & answers format, contributions from research fraternity, start-up spotlights, industry collaborations, communications and resources, reaching out to society and so on. A dedicated focus has been given on exhibiting funding opportunities catering to the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Contact Info: kdgm[at]vigyanprasar[dot]gov[dot]in
Website link: https://www.indiascienceandtechnology.gov.in/
Press Information Bureau releases daily bulletin on COVID-19
Press Information Bureau (PIB), Government of India releases a daily bulletin on COVID-19, starting from early days of COVID-19 outbreak. The bulletin contains press releases concerning COVID-19, issued in last 24 hours, inputs from PIB field offices, and fact checks undertaken by PIB. These bulletins are published in 14 languages, namely Hindi, English, Urdu, Marathi, Telugu, Tamil, Punjabi, Bangla, Kannada, Oriya, Gujarati, Assamese, Malayalam and Manipuri. The following data-points were released on 22 June 2021.
Government of India presents regular COVID-19 India factsheet and immunisation programme
India’s coronavirus cases have crossed 3 crore, and as on 23 June 2021, 08:00 AM it stands at 3,00,28,709 cases out of which 2,89,94,855 have recovered. The recovery rate stands at 96.56% while the case fatality rate stands at 1.30%.
Government of India has so far provided, both through the free-of-cost category and through direct-state-procurement category, more than 29 crore vaccine doses (29,46,39,511) to States/ UTs.
Website link: https://www.mygov.in/covid-19
Psychosocial Support to Persons with Disabilities During COVID-19 Pandemic, a source book released by NIMHANS-Bengaluru
Many persons with disabilities have pre-existing health conditions that make them more susceptible to contracting the virus, experiencing more severe symptoms upon infection, leading to elevated levels of death. During the COVID-19 crisis, persons with disabilities who are dependent on support for their daily living may find themselves isolated and unable to survive during lockdown measures, while those living in institutions are particularly vulnerable, as evidenced by the overwhelming numbers of deaths in residential care homes and psychiatric facilities. Barriers for persons with disabilities in accessing health services and information are intensified. Persons with disabilities also continue to face discrimination and other barriers in accessing livelihood and income support, participating in online forms of education, and seeking protection from violence
National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) released a brochure about Psychosocial Support to Persons with Disabilities During COVID-19 Pandemic. Awareness of these risks leads to better responses that can allay the disproportionate impact experienced by persons with disabilities.
Dr Harsh Vardhan addresses virtual conference on “COVID-19 Pandemic: A Call for Health Security and Peace in the WHO Eastern Mediterranean Region”
19 May 2021, New Delhi
Dr Harsh Vardhan, Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare virtually addressed the conference on “COVID-19 Pandemic: A Call for Health Security and Peace in the WHO Eastern Mediterranean Region” on 19 May 2021. Remembering the one-year wrath of the novel coronavirus, since, COVID-19 was declared a Public Health Emergency of international concern and reminding everyone that how the pandemic has shown that nobody is safe until all of us are safe, Dr Harsh Vardhan said, “The pandemic has underlined the need for greater collaboration between countries on various aspects of health. Therefore, it is desirable to exchange our experiences, our learnings, our innovations as well as our best practices to help strengthen health systems across the world. We must admit that in such times of global crisis, both risk management and mitigation would require further deepening of global partnerships to re-energize interest and investment in global public health. We also need to conquer the adversary by supplementing each other’s capacity by pooling our resources.” Speaking about the importance of collaborative effort in the fight against this deadly virus, the Union Health Minister said, “An important lesson COVID-19 has taught us is that preparedness costs only a fraction of the impact of a pandemic, but the returns on this investment are exponential. This pandemic disrupted life as we knew it, but also provided a steep learning curve for all of us to become more resilient and better prepared for the future. But we must all understand and agree, shared challenges shall only be overcome through shared efforts. No country can prepare or remain safe in silos.” Dr Harsh Vardhan further informed India's pre-emptive, proactive and graded response characterized by the “whole of Government” approach to manage the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. India’s federal structure and subsequent public health system posed various challenges due to the wide diversity that prevails throughout the length and breadth of the country. The Union Health minister highlighted that considering this, India’s pandemic management was based on centralized monitoring but decentralized implementation approach. He added that in order to effectively monitor the pandemic, India established a digitally enabled COVID War room at the Central level as well as the State level to increase agility and enhance efforts in our fight against the virus. “One of the most crucial aspects of our fight against COVID-19 was centralized training of frontline health workers and constant dissemination of authenticated information to the masses through various mediums to mitigate the misconceptions around COVID-19 and to spread awareness about COVID-appropriate behaviour”, he added.
The Minister highlighted India’s response to handling the COVID-19 pandemic in respect to technical innovations related to surveillance, logistic and supply chain management, medical devices and other aspects of clinical management that have been introduced in response to COVID-19 like COVID India Portal, ICMR Portal, RT-PCR app, Facility App, AarogyaSetu App, ITIHAS app, Telemedicine (for COVID and Non-COVID services) etc. To ensure the continuity of health services during the pandemic, a nationwide telemedicine service (eSanjeevani OPD application) was launched and in a short span of 14 months, more than 5 million consultations have been conducted in 28 States of India. Highlighting the need for vaccination, the Minister said that “Vaccination is an important strategy for disease prevention and plays a critical role in mitigating the impact of a pandemic. India launched the world’s largest vaccination drive against COVID-19 on January 16 this year. India has extensively utilized digital technologies for effective implementation of the Co-WIN platform created for inventory management and delivery of COVID-19 vaccine. India has also engaged with various countries bilaterally by providing vaccinations in grants under the humanitarian initiative, Vaccine Maitri. Under this initiative, India has also supplied one lakh vaccine dose to Oman. The Union Health Minister highlighted that Oman is an important strategic partner of India linked by geography, history and culture and enjoys warm and cordial relations. In the field of healthcare, India and Oman have already established a well-versed mechanism through Joint Working Group. Dr Harsh Vardhan also pointed out that the exponential increase in urbanisation has not just led to massive non-communicable and communicable diseases but also several other public health threats. He thus emphasized the need for greater collaboration between countries on various aspects of health and stressed for exchange of experience, learning, and innovations as well as best practices to strengthen health systems. He suggested that our programmes must be designed to prepare to work in a world largely shaped and defined by rapidly changing realities, better equipped to face sudden public health threats like pandemics. He finally concluded that India is committed to tirelessly champion the cause “health for all” across the world as we believe the world is one and efforts of further global cooperation must be encouraged.
Stay Safe from Mucormycosis - A fungal complication being detected in COVID-19 patients
14 May 2021, Mumbai
Even as we try our best to protect ourselves from and cope with COVID-19, there is another threat being posed by a fungus, which we must know and act upon. Mucormycosis, a fungal infection, is being reported in a few COVID-19 patients during or post recovery. As per a statement given by the Health Minister of Maharashtra two days ago, more than 2000 people had already been affected by this fungal infection in the state; 10 people had succumbed to it. Some patients have lost their eyesight.
What causes Mucormycosis?
Mucormycosis or black fungus is a complication caused by fungal infection. People catch mucormycosis by coming in contact with the fungal spores in the environment. It can also develop on the skin after the fungus enters the skin through a cut, scrape, burn, or other type of skin trauma. The disease is being detected among patients who are recovering or have recovered from COVID-19. Moreover, anyone who is diabetic and whose immune system is not functioning well needs to be on guard against this.
How is it related with COVID-19?
The disease is caused by a set of micro-organisms known as mucormycetes, which are present naturally in the environment, seen mostly in soil and in decaying organic matter like leaves, compost and piles. In normal course, our body’s immune system successfully fights such fungal infections. However, we know that COVID-19 affects our immune system. Moreover, the treatment of COVID-19 patients involves intake of drugs like dexamethasone, which suppress our immune system response. Due to these factors, COVID-19 patients face a renewed risk of failing the battle against attacks mounted by organisms such as mucormycetes. In addition, COVID patients undergoing oxygen therapy in ICU, where humidifier is used, are prone to fungal infection because of exposure to moisture. But this does not mean that every COVID patient will get infected by Mucormycosis. The disease is uncommon in those not having diabetes but can be fatal if not treated promptly. Chances of recovery depend upon early diagnosis and treatment. After recovering from COVID-19, one should closely monitor and should not miss any warning signs and symptoms, as the fungal infection is found to emerge even weeks or months after recovery. One should make judicial use of steroids as per doctor’s advice to avoid risk of infection. Early detection of the disease can ease the treatment.
DCGI approves clinical trial of Covaxin in children
13 May 2021, New Delhi
The National Regulator of the country, the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI), after careful examination, has accepted the recommendation of Subject Expert Committee (SEC) and accorded permission to conduct the Phase II/III clinical trial of Covaxin (COVID vaccine) in the age group 2 to 18 years, to its manufacturer Bharat Biotech Ltd on 12.05.2021. M/s Bharat Biotech International Ltd., Hyderabad (BBIL) had proposed to carry out a Phase II/ III clinical trial of Covaxin in the age group of 2 to 18 years. The trial will be conducted in 525 healthy volunteers. In the trial, the vaccine will be given by intramuscular route in two doses at day 0 and day 28. As rapid regulatory response, the proposal was deliberated in Subject Expert Committee (SEC) (COVID-19) on 11.05.2021. The Committee after detailed deliberation recommended for grant of permission to conduct proposed Phase II/III clinical trial to certain conditions.
B.1.617 is not an Indian variant of coronavirus, says MoHFW, referred WHO documents
12 May 2021, New Delhi
Several media reports have covered the news of World Health Organisation (WHO) classifying B.1.617 as variant of global concern. Some of these reports have termed the B.1.617 variant of the coronavirus as an “Indian Variant”. Ministry of Health & Family Welfare (MoHFW) refuted various media reports in a press release. These media reports are without any basis and unfounded. This is to clarify that WHO has not associated the term “Indian Variant” with the B.1.617 variant of the coronavirus in its 32 page document. In fact, the word “Indian” has not been used in its report on the matter.
DCGI approves anti-COVID-19 drug, 2-DG, developed by DRDO for emergency use
8 May 2021, New Delhi
An anti-COVID-19 therapeutic application of the drug 2-deoxy-D-glucose (2-DG) has been developed by Institute of Nuclear Medicine and Allied Sciences (INMAS), a lab of Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), in collaboration with Dr Reddy’s Laboratories (DRL), Hyderabad. Clinical trial results have shown that this molecule helps in faster recovery of hospitalised patients and reduces supplemental oxygen dependence. Higher proportion of patients treated with 2-DG showed RT-PCR negative conversion in COVID-19 patients. The drug will be of immense benefit to the people suffering from COVID-19. In April 2020, during the first wave of the pandemic, INMAS-DRDO scientists conducted laboratory experiments with the help of Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), Hyderabad and found that this molecule works effectively against SARS-CoV-2 virus and inhibits the viral growth. Based on these results, DCGI, Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSCO) permitted Phase-II clinical trial of 2-DG in COVID-19 patients in May 2020. The DRDO, along with its industry partner DRL, Hyderabad, started the clinical trials to test the safety and efficacy of the drug in COVID-19 patients. In Phase-II trials (including dose ranging) conducted during May to October 2020, the drug was found to be safe in COVID-19 patients and showed significant improvement in their recovery. Phase IIa was conducted in six hospitals and Phase IIb (dose ranging) clinical trial was conducted at 11 hospitals all over the country. Phase-II trial was conducted on 110 patients. In efficacy trends, the patients treated with 2-DG showed faster symptomatic cure than Standard of Care (SoC) on various endpoints. A significantly favourable trend (2.5 days difference) was seen in terms of the median time to achieving normalisation of specific vital signs parameters when compared to SoC. Based on successful results, DCGI further permitted the Phase-III clinical trials in November 2020.
The Phase-III clinical trial was conducted on 220 patients between December 2020 to March 2021 at 27 COVID hospitals in Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu. The detailed data of phase-III clinical trial was presented to DCGI. In 2-DG arm, significantly higher proportion of patients improved symptomatically and became free from supplemental oxygen dependence (42% vs. 31%) by day-3 in comparison to SoC, indicating an early relief from oxygen therapy/ dependence. The similar trend was observed in patients aged more than 65 years. On May 01, 2021, DCGI granted permission for emergency use of this drug as adjunct therapy in moderate to severe COVID-19 patients. Being a generic molecule and analogue of glucose, it can be easily produced and made available in plenty in the country. VIGYAN PRASAR 77 The drug comes in powder form in sachet, which is taken orally by dissolving it in water. It accumulates in the virus infected cells and prevents virus growth by stopping viral synthesis and energy production. Its selective accumulation in virally infected cells makes this drug unique. In the on-going second COVID-19 wave, a large number of patients are facing severe oxygen dependency and need hospitalisation. The drug is expected to save precious lives due to the mechanism of operation of the drug in infected cells. This also reduces the hospital stay of COVID-19 patients.
Advisory issued for induction of 8-lakhs trained AYUSH human resources for clinical management of COVID-19
7 May 2021, New Delhi
Continuing with the efforts to augment human resources for the management of COVID-19 cases, the Ministry issued advisory to deploy trained AYUSH human resources available with them for clinical management of COVID-19 cases. The decision to deploy AYUSH professionals to the frontlines of the COVID-19 war is in continuation of decisions taken a few days back to boost availability of medical personnel to fight COVID-19 such as postponement of the NEET-PG Exam, giving priority to medical personnel completing 100 days of Covid duties in forthcoming regular Government recruitments and deployment of medical interns in Covid Management duties under the supervision of their faculty.
AYUSH doctors are institutionally qualified professionals, well trained in various aspects of medical care. They have already proven their competence in various COVID-19 management roles in different institutions across the country. Some of the institutions under the Ministry of AYUSH like the All India Institute of Ayurveda (AIIA), New Delhi which functions as a COVID -19 Care Centre, are efficiently managing COVID-19 cases at present. Further, States/ UTs have trained nearly 1.06 lakh AYUSH professionals in different aspects of COVID-19 management, and 28,473 professionals have been deployed for COVID-19 activities. Training to AYUSH professionals in different aspects of COVID-19 management was also provided by the Ministry of AYUSH through the Integrated Government Online Training (iGOT) digital platform (https://igot.gov.in/), and 66045 AYUSH professionals completed the same. In addition, the Ministry of AYUSH and the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare have jointly provided training to 33,000 AYUSH master trainers. Thus, a large number of AYUSH professionals have already been prepared through various efforts to take up frontline tasks in the fight against the pandemic. Details of about 8.32 Lakhs of AYUSH manpower have been compiled through the initiatives of the Ministry of AYUSH and provided on the Covid Warriors portal (covidwarriors.gov.in).
Government augmenting manufacturing capacity for COVAXIN production under Mission COVID Suraksha
Under Atmanirbhar Bharat 3.0 Mission COVID Suraksha was announced by the Government of India to accelerate the development and production of indigenous COVID-19 vaccines. This is being implemented by Department of Biotechnology, Govt. of India at Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC), New Delhi. As a part of this augmentation plan, capacities of Bharat Biotech Limited, Hyderabad as well as other public sector manufactures are being upgraded with required infrastructure and technology. Financial support is being provided as grant from GoI to the tune of approximately Rs. 65 crore to Bharat Biotech’s new Bengaluru facility which is being repurposed to increase the capacity of vaccine production.
The following three public sector companies are also being supported to increase the capacity of vaccine production.
1. Haffkine Biopharmaceutical Corporation Ltd, Mumbai-a State PSE under State Government of Maharashtra. Financial support of Rs. 65 Crore as grant from GoI is being provided for this facility to make it ready for manufacturing. The facility will have a capacity of 20 million doses per month, once functional.
2. Indian Immunologicals Limited (IIL), Hyderabad – A facility under National Dairy Development Board is being provided a grant of Rs. 60 crore.
3. Bharat Immunologicals and Biologicals Limited (BIBCOL), Bulandshahr a CPSE under Department of Biotechnology, Government of India is being supported with a grant of Rs. 30 crore to prepare their facility to provide 10-15 million doses per month.
Further, Gujarat Biotechnology Research Centre, Department of Science and Technology, Government of Gujarat along with Hester Biosciences and OmniBRx has also firmed up its discussions with Bharat Biotech to scale up the COVAXIN technology and to produce VIGYAN PRASAR 79 minimum 20 million doses per month. Technology transfer agreement has been finalized with all manufacturers.
Co-WIN digital portal reconfigured to reflect change in dose interval of Covishield vaccine to 12-16 weeks
The COVID Working Group chaired by Dr N K Arora had recommended extension of the gap between the first and second doses of Covishield vaccine to 12-16 weeks. This has been accepted by Government of India on 13 May 2021. Government of India has communicated this change to States and UTs. The Co-WIN digital portal has also been reconfigured to reflect this extension of interval for two doses of Covishield to 12-16 weeks. However, there have been reports in a section of the media suggesting that people who had pre-booked their appointment for the second dose in less than 84 days on Co-WIN are being turned back from vaccination centres without getting the second dose of Covishield. It is clarified that the requisite changes have now been done in the Co-WIN digital portal. As a result, further online or on-site appointments will not be possible if the period after 1st dose date for a beneficiary is less than 84 days.
Additionally, already booked online appointments for 2nd dose of Covishield will remain valid and are not being cancelled by CO-WIN. Further, the beneficiaries are advised to reschedule their appointments for a later date beyond the 84th day from the date of 1st dose vaccination. The Union Government has reiterated to the States and UTs that the online appointments booked for 2nd dose of Covishield prior to this change of the interval between the two doses of Covishield must be honoured. The Union Health Ministry has advised the Sates/UTs that the field staff may be instructed that if such beneficiaries do come for vaccination, the second Covishield dose must be administered and they must not be turned away. They have also been advised to undertake awareness activities to inform the beneficiaries about this change.
Bleeding and clotting events following COVID vaccination miniscule in India
Bleeding and clotting cases following COVID-19 vaccination in India are minuscule and in line with the expected number of diagnoses of these conditions in the country, a report submitted by the National AEFI (Adverse Event Following Immunization) Committee to the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare said. The AEFI Committee has completed an in-depth case review of 498 serious and severe events, of which 26 cases have been reported to be potential thromboembolic (formation of a clot in a blood vessel that might also break loose and carried by the blood stream to plug another vessel) events – following the administration of Covishield vaccine – with a reporting rate of 0.61 cases/million doses.
There were no potential thromboembolic events reported following administration of Covaxin vaccine. AEFI data in India showed that there is a very miniscule but definitive risk of thromboembolic events. The reporting rate of these events in India is around 0.61/million doses, which is much lower than the 4 cases/million reported by UK’s regulator Medical and Health Regulatory Authority (MHRA). Germany has reported 10 events per million doses. It is important to know that thromboembolic events keep occurring in general population as background and scientific literature suggests that this risk is almost 70 per cent less in persons of South and South East Asian descent in comparison to those from European descent.