COVID-19 may become as common as influenza

New Delhi: The Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) expert, Dr Samiran Panda on Friday (July 9, 2021) said that the coronavirus may reach its endemic stage (diseases like chicken pox, malaria or influenza that occur at a predictable rate) after a while. Dr Samiran Panda, who is the head of the Division of Epidemiology and Communicable Diseases, also added that this will just mean that the vulnerable population may have to take the vaccine shot annually.

“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 said.

“Influenza, commonly known as flu, was a pandemic 100 years ago but today it is endemic. Similarly, in the 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 on mutating, we simultaneously make minor changes in the vaccine. So, there is no need to panic,” he added.

The experts revealed that the mutations of the virus are normal, and there is nothing to panic about.

While addressing the concerns over the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines against the newer strains of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in India, Dr Panda said, “The vaccines available now largely are effective against the new variants. 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.”

Additionally, Dr Panda urged all the citizens to take the vaccine available in India right now, rather than waiting for other COVID-19 vaccines to arrive in the country.

“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?” he said.

Dr. Panda said it is futile to go for anti-body tests as immunity does not depend only on anti-bodies.

“The anti-bodies that are seen using the commercial kits available in the market are not necessarily the anti-bodies that can protect from COVID disease. Whenever a person gets vaccinated, two types of immunity emerge. One is known as neutralizing anti-body or anti-body mediated immunity. The second one is cell-mediated immunity. The third and the most important one is immune memory. Immune memory is generated after vaccination and is present in cells and whenever the virus enters the body, this gets activated,” he explained.