- The Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus has awakened the governments across the world to reactivate adequate measures to handle the latest health scare before it goes about ravaging humanity yet again. Thankfully, the Omicron variant was detected early enabling the health authorities to spruce up their efforts in tackling the crises before it is too late. Though touted to be highly infectious as compared to previously identified variants, the reports emanating from several countries suggest the virus to be milder and treatable without leading to the severity of infection or subsequent hospitalization. Thank goodness for little mercies.
- However, as the Indian population density is humongous, the health authorities cannot afford to take the matter lightly since the sheer number of people getting infected might overwhelm the less than adequate healthcare infrastructure in no time. On its part, the Indian Government has initiated several measures viz. administering the vaccine to children aged 15 to 18 years, precautionary dose to healthcare workers, and people above 60 years with comorbidities. As speed is of the essence in fighting fast-transmitting Omicron, the Union Health Ministry has also advised states to adopt a dual testing strategy deploying both standard and imported S-gene drop RT-PCR test kits to detect Omicron cases.
- Better late than never as such dual testing obviates the need to send all Covid-positive samples for genome sequencing, which is not only time-consuming but also defeats the very purpose of quick identification. Another important measure is the emergency use approval granted by the regulator to Serum Institute of India’s Covovax and Biological E’s Corbevax vaccines, while also granting permission to manufacture and market anti-Covid pill Molnupiravir for restricted use in patients with Covid who have a high risk of disease progression. Note that Covovax is the Indian version of Novovax’s recombinant nanoparticle protein-based vaccine.
- Of course, the indigenous Corbevax too is protein based and the Government in June had placed an advance order of 300 million doses of it. As per earlier reports, 200 million doses of Covovax were expected between August and December. However, Corbevax is aiming to hit production of 100 million doses per month only by February 2022. These timelines must be bettered if the two vaccines are to be used for a speedy booster programme for all adults. Make no mistake, Molnupiravir can be a game-changer in the fight against Omicron given that its working mechanism is unaffected by the many mutations in the variant’s spike protein.
- Further, the pill has been shown to reduce the risk of hospitalization or death among adults with mild to moderate Covid by 30%. Most welcomingly, Merck, which has developed Molnupiravir, has already shared the licence with eight Indian generic drugmakers. As such, the Government of India should immediately start stockpiling the drug and release it both through the public health system and private channels. Any delay in ensuring the release would be catastrophic as the indelible wounds of the devastating second Covid wave are still fresh in our collective conscience. It all depends on acting fast and with precision. Hope the Government is up to it this time around.