‘Vaccination doesn’t give you the licence to go without a mask’

Dr N.K. Ganguly, former Director General of Indian Council of Medical Research, explains to The Sunday Guardian why vaccinated people are getting re-infected and other issues.

The resurgence of Covid-19 cases among vaccinated individuals has become one of the biggest concerns in recent times. Dr N.K. Ganguly, former Director General of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), talks about such issues. Excerpts:

Q: How will the Sputnik V vaccine be helpful?

A: Its global efficacy data is higher than the data of those vaccines which India is already using. The trial has been done in India also, they have gathered the data very nicely; it has got two major components, adenovirus vector, one from Johnson and Johnson and another one from Oxford. Using two vectors shows that it has better efficacy. But yes, those who have co-morbidities should take it under medical supervision only.

Q: Why are people getting re-infected even after getting inoculation? Do you still think vaccination is important?

A: Vaccination is important because the vaccine protects. Though the person may still get infected, the vaccine protects in a way that the person doesn’t get severe infection and the person is protected from hospitalisation and dying. This was a part of what was seen in the critical trial also, the two vaccines in India were protecting up to 70%. Those who got infected had a milder infection. Vaccination is important, but what is more important is that vaccination doesn’t give you the license to go without a mask; it doesn’t give you a license for large gatherings or not to maintain social distance. Sometimes it is not in our control, but that is what is happening in the Kumbh Mela, and it may happen in election rallies, it may happen in parties during the wedding season.

We need to get used to a new normal in our lives where we will have to do our economic activities, but we will have to take adequate care. The vaccine protects, but it does not give you a license for irresponsible behaviour.

Q: How many months of immunity can one get from a vaccine?

A: Up to now, we have Pfizer data which shows that it protects up to seven months. Since these vaccines have recently been introduced, we’ll know whether they protect after a year or not.

Q: How about the body developing antibodies?

A: Many of the places with which I am associated are measuring antibodies before and after the first injection and after the second injection to see that how much antibody is being made. Some people are not developing a good amount of antibodies. This is because every person is a different individual, so immune response depends on age, and on conditions like whether you have a kidney disease or whether you are old. Pregnant women respond differently.

Q: Are we doing this kind of research?

A: Yes, we need a lot of research. Research is being done constantly and we now know a lot of things from research. We now know that if you wear double masks, you are protected better; you are protected 85%. We also know that 6 feet distance was recommended, but 3 feet also works. We now know a lot of new things. We also know from research that antibiotics pass from mother to the child; so, when the mother is vaccinated, the child will be protected for up to 6 months minimum.

Q: Most of this research has been done by other countries; we also need to do research in India?

A: In India also, research has been carried out; some of the information has come from India. India has its mutation data; we have some idea of the mutants circulating in India.

Q: Do you think as of now we need to change our guidelines also?

A: The guidelines are constantly been changed and depends on vaccine availability. There are some countries which have been able to achieve vaccination for 60-80% of their population and these countries are very happy. We have a very large population, so vaccine availability is a very big thing.

Q: Do we have other choices for vaccines in future like you were talking about the Johnson and Johnson vaccine? How is this particular vaccine going to be useful?

A: The Johnson and Johnson vaccine has got an advantage in that it is a one-shot vaccine. It is a good vaccine that protects up to 80% and sometimes even more. The Johnson and Johnson vaccine can be stored in an ambient temperature and it has worked against the South African strain. Johnson and Johnson vaccine will be manufactured by Bio-E and this vaccine will be available in India.