Volunteers distribute face masks in New Delhi (File) Image Credit: AP

A newspaper headline screamed about the disastrous delay by the Government of India in allowing Covid vaccination for young (15 to 18 years) only now. Think about it. India was ‘the’ test case for the pandemic as it had a huge population, lacklustre health infrastructure in the beginning, densely populated urban centers, large rural population with no access to medical or other care and then it rolled out a vaccination programme that met with a very tepid response for the first two months.

Health care and frontline workers did not come forward to get themselves vaccinated. Only 20% of the HCW vaccinated themselves, and the whole world, including the doctors, lulled themselves into believing that the epidemic was dying away.

Lay newsroom anchors also doubted the vaccine efficacy due to its quick development. It’s only when the severe Delta wave hit in the end of March last year, that people realised the critical protection offered by the vaccine. Delta’s ferocity, transmissibility and the ability to kill forced a drastic rethink.

Even then, there was the typical parochial provincial Indian politics where states, goaded by a section of media, initially wanted to procure vaccines as independent entities. They failed. Finally, the Government of India took vaccine procurement programme in its own hands and achieved a stupendous success with nearly 70% of the adult population of the country vaccinated now.

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A similar story played out in the West where a devious alarm was raised, and apprehension created around vaccine safety and efficacy by some of the commentariat. As a result, nearly 40% of the Western population did not take the vaccine and is now paying the price with infections rising uncontrollably and the hospital beds getting exhausted by the hour.

My request to all facile commentators is not to misinform and indulge in rabble rousing. Governments have expert think tanks and, to be sure, I went through the antecedents of Indian Prime Minister’s advisory committee for Covid-19. It included the finest minds from multiple domains.

All these noted virologists, epidemiologists, pulmonologists, cardiologists, neonatologists, microbiologists and statisticians have worked on humungous data to formulate a policy which seems to have worked well so far. Let’s quietly trust our governments and these domain-specialists who are working for societal good and allow the program to play out.

From the little I know, young people from the age of 15 to 18 have very robust immunity and therefore really haven’t suffered severe disease. There have been very few Covid-19 deaths in this age group, if at all. If that is the case, should we not have waited for the natural herd immunity to take hold among them? Should we not vaccinate the vulnerable adult population in India or people with comorbidities first? The answer is very obvious.

Let experts do their thing

Let’s not foment mistrust, propagate pessimism and question everything. Certainly not when we ourselves are no experts. Policy formulation takes a great deal of expertise and it is impossible for a newspaper editor to be an epidemiologist, an economist, a politician, a statesman everything rolled into one, just to write a provocative daily editorial.

My suggestion, in all humility is, let’s do what we should do and have been doing for a year and a half. Keep our masks on, keep a safe distance, do not have any meeting with more than four people, avoid those birthday or anniversary or marriage parties.

Work (or don’t) from home and keep off crowded places. Zoom in and out of your meetings with the usual shirt and tie and Pyjamas and coffee, as before. It’s a matter of few more weeks and the situation will stabilise.

The silver lining really is that though Omicron infections are rising exponentially, the hospital beds are not occupied by patients with severe disease and very few ventilators have had to be used compared to their numbers last year. That’s the good news and let’s get on with our lives with these little precautions. And, yes, get a booster.

This too shall pass. Haven’t we seen worse?

Dr Rakesh Maggon is a specialist ophthalmologist with an interest in literature