Dr VK Paul addressed the session on ‘From Epidemic to Endemic: The New Paradigm’ at the Partnership Summit 2021, organised by CII in association with Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT)
The first issue that we are now grappling with in significant way is improving access to vaccines. In the context of omicron, it has become more acute, stated Dr Vinod K Paul, Member, NITI Aayog, India while addressing the session on ‘From Epidemic to Endemic: The New Paradigm’ at the Partnership Summit 2021, organised by CII in association with Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT), Ministry of Commerce and Industry, from 13 – 15 December 2021.
Highlighting the issues that the world faces with regard to response on COVID-19, Dr Paul stated the second issue is the efficacy of vaccines.
“There is a potential scenario that our vaccines may become ineffective in emerging situations, and there is a need to create vaccines, using the same platform, to target the variant of the day.” He further added that “a much more concerted approach to drug development is required.”
Drug development will not go out of fashion for the next viral epidemic/pandemic that we might face, and the anti-microbial resistance challenge is crying for drug solutions. Lastly, it is science of the highest quality that we need to invest in to tackle deep challenges. Our national investment in science is all public money; moving forward, can we create an ecosystem to invest in science, he questioned.
Dr Seth Berkley, Chief Executive Officer, GAVI, The Vaccine Alliance, Switzerland stated that as long there are large populations of people unvaccinated, the virus can continue to spread and mutate unabated, causing waves of disease and increasing the likelihood of new and potentially more dangerous variants emerging. As many countries accelerated their booster programs in response to Omicron, and manufactures work on variant specific boosters, we need to make sure it does not draw resources and doses away from the global effort to deliver first doses to billions of people still unvaccinated just as deliveries are ramping up.
Dr Angelique Coetzee, National Chairperson, South African Medical Association, South Africa expressed that Omicron might be more transmissible than the Delta variant; however, it is not as severe as the Delta variant at the primary health care level. Omicron may escape the vaccine; however it is not a problem due to the mild diseases associated with the variant.
Dr Ramanan Laxminarayan, Director, Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy (CDDEP), USA speaking on the variants highlighted that case fatality rates alone does not determine the damage a variant does; however, it is the sheer number of infections. The Delta variant killed a fewer people per person infected than the virus in the first year, suggesting it was not as virulent. In many countries, Delta continues to be the predominant threat and will likely be so until it is replaced by Omicron.
Dr Javier Guzman, Director, Global Health Policy Programme and Senior Policy Fellow, Centre for Global Development, USA expressed four main gaps currently prevalent: A global network to have better surveillance is needed, a new governance arrangement of global health architecture is required, there is the inherent need to develop and distribute medical counter measures and for national health resilience.
Ashok Bajpai, Group Head of Operational Strategy, IHH Healthcare, Singapore stated that for those places that have the availability of vaccines, and an opportunity for people to get vaccinated, there is no choice but to ease restrictions and allow the virus to become endemic in the population without over burdening the healthcare system. To transition from pandemic to endemic, an acceptable level of disease burden that the healthcare system can bear is required.
Suneeta Reddy, Co-Chairperson, CII Healthcare Council and Managing Director, Apollo Hospitals, India expressed that the ability to collaborate is required with public and private sector and with countries across the world. We must increase our commitment towards funding of science, research and drug development.