Europe is in the grip of a deadly covid 19 wave. The daily number of infections in the continent are around three and a half lakhs. These constitute about 54% of all daily global infections. Countries such as Germany which have handled the pandemic well till now are facing a dangerous situation with hospitals and intensive care facilities are coming under pressure. This has led Germany’s outgoing and respected chancellor Angela Merkel to warn her people that the country is in a “highly dramatic situation”. She has called Germany’s provincial governments to adopt tougher public measures to halt the rise of infections. Health minister Jens Spehn has urged the unvaccinated to get themselves inoculated quickly and those who vaccinated to take booster shots. He bluntly told Germans that by the end of winter they would be either “vaccinated, recovered or dead”.
Many European governments are putting restrictions to handle the current pandemic situation. Austria has imposed a partial lockdown. In some other countries curbs on the movement of unvaccinated people and on large gatherings in public places have been put in place. These have met with resistance. Demonstrations against governmental measures have taken place in Austria, Belgium and in Holland. These are partly on account of the fear that the economy will take a hit but also because many people are now suffering from pandemic fatigue.
The present covid 19 situation in other parts of the world is not as bad as in Europe but it still is difficult. The United States continues to be the worst hit in the world is experiencing over ninety-eight thousand cases a day with infections on the rise. In India the covid 19 situation is presently under control. The daily number of cases are around ten thousand though the central government has asked the states not to slacken on testing. In view of the country’s experience of the devastating second wave Delhi’s advice should be taken with all seriousness by the states for it is evident that there has been a slackening in mask wearing and maintenance of social distancing among the people. As the pandemic world wide is far from over all Indians should take basic precautions. That message should also be creatively reinforced by both the central and state governments.
This writer has pointed out the lack of a cohesive global response to covid 19 earlier in these columns. Sadly, basic divergence continues among countries on a most significant aspect of the primary ‘weapon’ to combat the pandemic—vaccinations. The United States and Europe have decided to give booster doses to their vaccinated populations even while they are urging those who are reluctant to get vaccinated to shed their inhibitions and take the shot. US and European health officials are clearly of the view that the efficacy of the vaccine wanes over time and a booster is needed. They have sufficient number of vaccine doses to give booster shots.
Indian health experts are obviously not convinced as yet on the need of a booster dose. Dr Balram Bhargava, head of the Indian Council of Medical Research said recently “Booster doses of Covid vaccine are not a central theme at the moment in the scientific discussion. Getting two doses of the vaccine is a major priority”. Dr Randeep Guleria, director of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in Delhi stated “There is no surge of Covid-19 cases as of now. So there is no need for a booster dose in India for now”. He has also said that the chance of a “huge third wave” is receding with every passing day. Some other doctors are largely of the same view. Dr AP Bhalla a former member of the AIIMS faculty and who manages a Covid 19 intensive care facility in a large hospital is of the view that with two vaccination doses a fair amount of immunity comes about. Besides, he opines that covid 19 disease imparts a certain amount of herd immunity and recent ICMR studies suggest that India is fast reaching a fair level herd immunity. Thus Bhalla is of the view that it is not compulsory to give booster shots.
Clearly, Indian doctors are giving priority to cover the entire population with two shots. The WHO is also of the view that the global preference should be to vaccinate everyone on the principle that no one is safe till everyone is safe. These positions are backed by equity. However, from the very beginning of the pandemic, advanced countries, despite all their claims to the contrary, have viewed the issue from the narrow lens of their individual interests instead of adopting a holistic view. As the advanced countries have primarily looked at the welfare of their own populations it becomes difficult for any government not to give exclusive priority to its own nationals.
While the booster dose debate will not subside it is essential to look at other aspects which were focussed on by the head of the West Europe office of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Dr Hans Kluge. While mentioning the need for boosters Kluge said that the “stabilizers” necessary for Europe to battle the current wave are masks, good ventilation, vaccines and the new treatment protocols including the new treatments. The question is if the advanced world will be willing to freely allow the new treatments and protocols to be made available to the developing countries. If their present approaches continue it is unlikely that they will do so.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.