The sudden spike in Omicron cases has raised an alarm for the Indian healthcare system, with the Centre issuing orders to vaccinate children against the virus and administer precaution doses to the vulnerable population. The government has also given its approval for the emergency use of five new vaccines in addition to the previous COVAXIN and Covishield jabs.
Amid these developments, doctors and healthcare experts have warned against complicity in exercising safety norms such as maintaining social distancing and wearing masks. Dr Mohan Nair, the Vice President of the Indian Medical Association, Kerala stated that there is no evidence to suggest that fully vaccinated persons are protected against the new virus. He further cautioned that Omicron, though a variant of SARS-Cov-2, is so highly transmissible that it can be designated as a separate virus, that can lead to another pandemic.
"We are currently in a position in the exact positi on that we were during the onset of the pandemic. While we know that Omicron is a variant of COVID-19, it can be designated as a new virus altogether because of the extensive mutations. Unless we are very careful, it can definitely lead to another pandemic, especially when we have a festive season and people are getting complacent about social distancing norms. People are trivializing the matter of COVID-19. They don't even go for testing," Dr. Nair told Republic TV.
He stated that people have gained a lot of confidence after vaccination. "However, unfortunately, we don't have evidence to suggest that even vaccinated people are fully protected against the new variant. So we have a situation where even these 'protected people' are at risk. This is why we need to be very careful. We also do not have enough data to suggest that the infection caused by this particular variant is harmless. Hence it is always safe to fear the enemy in the dark. We need to be cautious." the IMA VP added.
Similarly, Dr Rajesh Sharma, Senior Consultant, Bhopal, advised people to remain cautious against the new mutated variant and build immunity to fight the ill effects of the disease. Comparing Omicron to the previous Delta variant, he said there is no need to panic as it may not result in a similar health crisis experience in India earlier this year.
"The Delta variant of Coronavirus was very dangerous. It had flooded hospitals, caused a shortage of beds and oxygen. But this time, there is no need for such panic. However, we have to remain cautious and protect ourselves from the virus. Most importantly, we have to keep our body fit through exercise and continue to maintain social distancing," Dr. Sharma stated. "While the Omicron variant is not very harmful, the need for a booster is necessary," he added.
Meanwhile, Dr Ambrish Mithal, Chairman and MD of Endocrinology Diabetology hailed the move to administer booster jabs to healthcare workers as well as elders with comorbidities.
Explaining its necessity, he said, "the immunity of several vaccinated people will naturally have been declined by now. Therefore it is important that healthcare workers get an enhancement of their immunity again. Just as we have seen in the previous waves, there is a tendency of cases rising again. The most vulnerable population are the elderly with comorbidities as they are more likely to succumb to the virus. Therefore undoubtedly, the move to provide precaution doses is welcomed by all."