NEW DELHI — The Covid-19 second wave has wreaked havoc in India since March 2021. As the pandemic rages on, with the highest daily death tally (6,148) getting reported on Thursday, India Ahead spoke with Dr. Anthony Fauci, Chief Medical Adviser on Covid-19 to the US President Joe Biden, Director of America’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and one of the world’s most renowned Covid-19 experts, about India’s fight against the deadly virus.
A new Lancet study says that vaccines are far less effective against the Delta variant dominant in India. And a single dose of vaccine offers only 32% protection against this variant. The Indian government has increased the gap between two Covishield doses to 12 to 16 weeks. Is it ill-advised?
I’m not going to say something ill-advised or not. I’m just going to give you the scientific facts. And that is that in fact, it is very clear that two doses of the vaccine, particularly the mRNA vaccine, and to some extent the AstraZeneca vaccine, does reasonably well. A little bit of diminution of the effectiveness against the 617 Delta variant. The problem you get into is that when you’re dealing with a single dose, that single dose only provides 33 or 30% effectiveness. So, that’s really an issue you’ve got to be careful about. You need to be fully protected if you want to block the Delta variant from getting you ill or not. And that was one of the important messages that came out of that Lancet study.
So far, India has fully vaccinated only 3.3% of its population and 13% of the population has received at least one dose of vaccine. We have a massive vaccine shortage. Do you believe it was a huge mistake on part of India not to have bought vaccines in bulk?
I’m not going to comment about whether there was a mistake or not. Let’s make that clear. I’m not commenting on that. I’m only saying that it’s important for India and any country that’s facing the challenge of a pandemic, which is essentially any and every country in the world right now, should do whatever they can, to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as you possibly can. That goes for India. That goes for any country. It’s very important to do whatever you can to get people vaccinated as quickly and as effectively as possible.
It’s very important to do whatever you can to get people vaccinated as quickly and as effectively as possible.
Do we need to worry about the efficacy of the existing vaccines against the Delta variant and the further mutations we might see in India in the months ahead?
Two doses of the vaccine, the primary and the booster, are only slightly to moderately diminished in the face of the Delta variant. We know that when you give two doses of the vaccines that are being used, you get reasonably good protection against any symptomatic disease and rather good protection against serious disease. We always have to keep in mind that new variants will arise and therefore, it’s important to continue to do genomic surveillance to determine and identify the variants as they arise. We need to do that everywhere. We need to do that in India. We need to do that in the United States. We need to do that throughout the world. It’s very important.
It’s important to continue to do genomic surveillance to determine and identify the variants as they arise.
Where, according to you, did India go so horribly wrong in dealing with the second wave?
I told you before and I’ll repeat it explicitly so that there is no misunderstanding. I will not comment at all on the performance of India. I would leave that to the Indian authorities to comment on.
Do you believe the third wave could hit India hard?
I’m always concerned when there are vaccinations that are at a very low level that there would be the danger of a surge. However, that’s the reason why I encourage India and any country, not only India, to do whatever they can to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as you possibly can.
India has registered a strong protest against the proposed adoption of a COVID-19 vaccine passport, saying that such a move could be “hugely discriminatory” towards developing countries, as the availability of vaccines in these countries is not at par with the developed world.
I’m not going to say whether or not it is discriminatory. I say that there are arguments on either side of that and it depends on where you are, what the situation would be. In the United States, centrally, the federal government is not going to be making a vaccine passport, part of the policy. I can only speak to what is going on in the United States and it is the policy that centrally, we will not be requiring vaccine passports. However, there are independent entities in the United States that might require proof of vaccination. For example, there are certain universities that will not let people on campus, in person, unless they have proof of vaccination. Not every university but some of them are. There are also other entities that have made it clear that they will not let people enter a particular enterprise unless they have proof of vaccination. So, it varies at the local level. But centrally, the United States federal government does not intend to have a requirement for a vaccine passport.
The United States federal government does not intend to have a requirement for a vaccine passport.
US President Joe Biden has asked intelligence agencies to get to the bottom of the origins of Covid-19. If you still believe the virus jumped species and was transmitted from animals to humans, why then do you think we need a deeper investigation into its origins?
Well, first of all, let me repeat as I have said before. I do believe that the most likely scenario is that the virus naturally jumped species from an animal reservoir, very similar to what we’ve seen with SARS-CoV1, with Ebola, with pandemic flu, and with a variety of other viruses that jump species. However, since we do not know, absolutely for sure yet, because the natural occurring theory has not yet been proven, a lot of people ask questions. In order to settle the concern of some, it’s important to try, as best as one can, to determine what the correct origin is. That doesn’t mean I’ve changed any of my opinions. I still believe that the most likely scenario is a natural occurrence.
Are you concerned that China may not cooperate with an international investigation?
Well, I hope that China cooperates. I don’t think it should be a way where one approaches them in an accusatory way. It should be done in a diplomatic way that combines diplomacy with science.
What would you say to your critics who say, especially in reference to your emails, that you knew all along about the ‘gain of function’ experiments at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which may have led to the creation of Coronavirus.
That’s incorrect and misleading information. Totally misleading and incorrect.