'Since we have to stop the pandemic, we have to use the vaccines now and that is why the emergency-use approval is justifiable.'
Dr Rakesh Mishra leads the scientists at the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology at Hyderabad who found a new strain of the novel coronavirus, Clade A3i that infected around 41% of the cases in India.
Dr Mishra discusses the COVID-9 vaccine's effect on the new mutant virus in the concluding part of the interview with Shobha Warrier/Rediff.com
Does this mean the vaccine will have the same effect as it has on the other strains?
The vaccine should work because the biology of the virus has not changed.
The virus looks the same.
What has changed is, it recognises the human cells more efficiently to enter the cell.
The way it behaves inside the system is the same.
So, all those who were infected earlier, those who are vaccinated will be able to fight it.
That's what the data says.
So, it should not affect the vaccine program in any major way.
Does that also mean there is a possibility for a mutant to appear which can be immune to the present vaccine?
There is always a possibility for a mutant to appear in future which will evade the immune system even if the host is vaccinated or had prior infection.
Reinfection can happen.
Do we not get cough and cold every year?
Even if you take a vaccine for the flu this year, you will have to take it again the next year.
Fortunately, the data shows that the COVID-19 virus is not mutating that fast.
We did not see a very effective mutant for so many months.
You mean not as fast as the flu virus?
Yes, not as fast as the flu virus.
So, the vaccine for covid should be more stable and more effective.
Would you say even after vaccination, countries have to be vigilant about any new mutant variety emerging which is immune to the vaccine?
Yes, it can emerge.
Remember, no vaccine is an approved vaccine; they are all for emergency use.
We do not know how good they will be.
We have not tested beyond six months.
And, most of the vaccines are still going through phase 3 trials.
The vaccination that is happening after phase 3 can be called phase 4 trial which will give the real picture of vaccines.
Many people are apprehensive about taking the vaccine...
The approval may be for emergency use, but these vaccines are safe.
That you can be sure about.
If the vaccines are unsafe, they will not get emergency approval.
Yes, there are always sceptics about vaccines, and there is this anti-vaccine lobby also.
But only later, we will know whether the vaccines are protecting a large number of people, and for how long.
But since we have to stop the pandemic, we have to use the vaccines now if it is available and that is why the emergency-use approval is justifiable.
You mean, even after vaccination, we have to take all the other precautions which we have been taking right now like wearing the mask, social distancing, etc?
Yes, that has to be given priority.
You have to also remember that majority of the people are not going to get the vaccine immediately.
First of all, do we have enough number of doses to vaccinate all?
Then, do we have a system to vaccinate 100 crore people?
Remember we have never done something of that scale before.
Maybe 10% of the people may get the vaccine.
Even 10% means 10 crore people.
Giving two doses of vaccine to 10 crore people needs huge logistics.
That means, the common man has to wait for 6 months or one year or even more to get the vaccine.
So, what we have to do is, we must learn to fight the virus thinking there is no vaccine available.
For the vaccine to work, they say at least 70% of the population has to be vaccinated which again is a huge number...
That is for herd immunity.
If 70% of the population becomes immune, the virus will not be able to travel faster, it will hit 'speed breakers' too often, and slowdown.
Then, we can have a normal life.
Yes, it is a huge number.
Maybe 20%-30% get the virus and get immunity but we have to vaccinate the remaining 40%!
It is a huge task.
The government is doing their job, the system is trying its best, companies are producing vaccines....
But people have to protect themselves.
That will the most reliable and effective weapon against the virus.
How long do you think we will have to live like this?
If we behave well, we can win our battle against the virus in a few months' time.
Maybe one year.
Feature Presentation: Ashish Narsale/Rediff.com