Towards herd immunity | Sunday Observer

Towards herd immunity

20 June, 2021

The travel restrictions now in effect are likely to be extended and tightened over the coming days. It might even amount to a full lockdown, as we experienced last year in the immediate aftermath of the first cases being reported from the country.

Judging by what happened in the past few weeks, the authorities have not been left with many options. This is because the travel restrictions were largely observed in the breach, with nearly 80,000 vehicles entering Colombo alone on any given day.

This is only a few thousand less than the number of vehicles entering the city on a normal weekday. As a result, there was only a marginal drop in the number of daily infections and deaths, which is not an ideal situation. There must be a discernible, if not drastic, drop in these numbers if we are to see the light at the end of the Covid tunnel.

The Government cannot be and should not be blamed if the travel restrictions are extended or tightened further.

The fault clearly lies with the public, who took the liberty of exploiting the rather lax enforcement of the travel restrictions, risking their very lives and even the lives of essential health and other workers.

This is a dangerous trend that can result in a bigger tragedy if not nipped in the bud. A curfew or similar mechanism could be the only answer to minimise public movements.

Such restrictions are needed in the light of the latest discovery of several cases of the highly contagious Delta variant from Dematagoda, a populous suburb in Colombo on Thursday.

Sri Jayewardenepura University’s Immunology and Molecular Medicine’s Allergy Immunology and Cell Biology Unit Director Dr. Chandima Jeewandara said the highly transmissible B.1.617.2 (Delta or Indian variant) of the SARS-Cov-2, was detected in samples collected from Aramaya Place in Dematagoda.

This could have grave ramifications, given the high population density in this area, coupled with the high transmissibility of the Delta variant. There could be an explosion of cases, even deaths, if this variant takes hold among the community.

One worrying factor is that this variant could cause so-called “breakthrough” infections in those who have received only the first dose of any vaccine currently in use.

The general consensus among scientists is that both doses of any vaccine offer protection against this variant. However, given that only a small percentage of our 21 million population has been given both doses, we are not out of the woods yet.

But we must emerge from this disaster to resurrect the moribund economy, which has suffered greatly as a result of the repeated lockdowns.

Tourism, industry, passenger and goods transport and education are among the myriad of sectors reeling from the harsh effects of the pandemic.

Daily wage earners are the hardest hit segment. Even expat remittances and exports are down due to the current global economic climate. It is imperative that we find a way out of this morass if we hope for a positive growth rate at least next year.

This is indeed why we might have to sacrifice our individual and collective freedoms for a few weeks more for the greater good of the greatest number.

The next year might have a better social and economic outlook if we obey the rules and keep journeys to a minimum now.

If we do not, our very future could be at stake and even the next generations might have to suffer. It is in this context that we must support the drive by the Government and health authorities to eliminate the Corona scourge.

This is a two-track strategy – containment and vaccination. Containment can be achieved if most people stay at home without travelling anywhere. This should be a voluntary process where possible, but since that does not seem to be working, the Government intervened and imposed travel restrictions, which could be further augmented.

Moreover, the virus will be unable to jump from host to host if social distancing is practised when in societal settings. In other words, if you have to go out, make sure there is around 1.5 metres between you and the next person.

But we cannot forever avoid social life and work. This is where the option of vaccination comes in. This is indeed how the world has eliminated many previously deadly diseases that used to claim millions of lives year after year.

The difference this time was that viable vaccines were developed in record time (less than one year), some with new technologies such as mRNA for the first time.

This contrasts sharply even with the development of the Ebola vaccine, which took around four years. Given that vaccines for diseases such as malaria and dengue are still in development, it is a victory for medical science that Covid vaccines were developed at a very rapid pace. One major concern with regard to the vaccination drive here is the possible lack of a second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine for 600,000 persons who had the first dose due to supply constraints associated with this vaccine.

However, there is hope in the form of the new “mix and match” strategy, where different vaccines can be given for first and second doses. Accordingly, clinical trials conducted abroad have proved that the Pfizer mRNA vaccine can safely be given to those first jabbed with the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Thus the Government has already ordered the Pfizer vaccine to boost the vaccination drive. The inoculation of at least 70 percent of the population and subsequent herd immunity would be our way out of this pestilence.