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Could CDC have been a better torchbearer to fight the “variant of concern” in India?

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Dr Soumik Chatterjee, Physician & Social Litterateur
Dr Soumik Chatterjee, Physician & Social Litterateur
Physician (Gold Medalist), Author, Social Litterateur & Marquee Financial Enthusiast. Felicitated as "Most Promising Young Physician of Kolkata 2021" by GCA 2021.

An insubstantial and enfeebled healthcare system of India has perhaps eventually collapsed when the hospitals have already been saturated and had to turn away boundless number of patients. There aren’t enough beds, there is an acute need for all kinds of medicines, medical supplies and equipments. The middle-tier and apex hospitals in the Mumbai, Bengal and Delhi regions are running short on oxygen. Paradoxically, earlier this year, authorities stamped out most of the lockdown restrictions which were meticulously crafted to limit the spread of the deadly virus. The common mass unhanded their personal protective equipments with many becoming absolute non-compliant with the social distancing protocols. Large mass gatherings
took place, including election rallies and religious festivals which eventually led to a lanceolated spike in newly diagnosed positive cases and has gradually prompted lockdown-like restrictions across various states of the country since early April of this year.

The B. 1. 617 variant of coronavirus which was first detected in India in October 2020, has been classified as a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The B.1.617 variant carries two mutations, E484Q and L452R, both of which are considered to help the virus evade antibodies in the immune system. As a result, the “varient of concern” become partially resistant to one or more vaccines and turns out to be national apprehension.

Vaccinating even 70% of the nation’s 1.4 billion people was always going to be herculean, back-breaking and challenging. However, till end of April 2021, India bought roughly 350 million doses of the two approved vaccines – the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab, manufactured as COVISHEILD by the Serum Institute of India, and COVAXIN b th Bharat Biotech International Limited, which proved insufficient to inoculate even 20% of the country’s population.

On the contrary, countries backed and upheld by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) like the USA, who pre-ordered more doses than they required nearly a year before the vaccines became available for immunisation, are now slowly yet steadily heading toward the pre-pandemic time with huge relaxations in mask guidelines. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky declared anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities, large or small, without wearing a mask or physical distancing. A cocktail of blunders has engufled the world’s largest vaccine manufacturing country, thus, turning the vaccination drive fragile and eventually making the situation less favourable.

For the past 20 years, CDC has successfully established technical collaboration with the Government of India (GoI), Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) to address India’s public health priorities. CDC support to the National Public Health Surveillance Project strengthened implementation of polio and measles vaccination campaigns, outbreak response activities, and surveillance. CDC supports the world’s largest nationwide behavioral sentinel surveillance, and integrated biological and behavioral surveillance among key populations. CDC’s advanced molecular diagnostic trainings helped the National Institute of Virology led influenza laboratory network scale up PCR based SARS-Cov2 testing in India.

CDC has been helping India prepare for pandemics in alignment with India’s Pandemic Influenza Preparedness and Response Plan, through laboratory strengthening, clinicians’ training on appropriate case management and infection control. CDC India continues to support advanced, intermediate and frontline Field Epidemiology Training Programs, provide mentorship for outbreak investigations, surveillance evaluations, COVID-19 activities, and regular remote training. CDC collaborated with MoHFW and WHO to train a total of 1200 Point of Entry (POE) officials (including airport handlers, immigration, and law-enforcement staff) on managing public health emergencies. (Facts claimed as in CDC website)

The nation, silently, is in urgent requisite of trained epidemiologists-led epidemiologic studies and evidence-based-research to target the efficacy and effectiveness of various strategies to prevent virus transmission. There is a dire need of health evaluation studies to assess public health and political responses to the pandemic and to formulate evidence-based alternatives to population-wide lockdowns. A collaborative consortium based approach with CDC as the touchbearer, can possibly reproduce better results in effective decision making to hault the diabolical virus.

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Dr Soumik Chatterjee, Physician & Social Litterateur
Dr Soumik Chatterjee, Physician & Social Litterateur
Physician (Gold Medalist), Author, Social Litterateur & Marquee Financial Enthusiast. Felicitated as "Most Promising Young Physician of Kolkata 2021" by GCA 2021.
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