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Indian coronavirus: more than two-thirds of the population could have antibodies, according to a new survey

About 67.6% of Indians surveyed over the age of 6 had antibodies, according to the national study, which was conducted between June and July by the government-run Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). The survey covered 70 districts in 21 states, with 28,975 participants.

Our immune system develops antibodies either induced by vaccination or in response to infection. The majority of survey participants, 62%, had not received a vaccine; about a quarter had received their first dose.

The study is a dramatic leap from just a few months ago – at the start of the year, less than a quarter of participants had antibodies, according to the latest national serological survey.
But in the months between the two surveys, India was devastated by a massive second wave, which overwhelmed the medical system and left people to die outside hospitals, waiting for oxygen or an open bed. The wave lasted from April to June, infecting millions of people and killing tens of thousands.

The results of the study, combined with a slow rollout of vaccination, raise concerns about the possibility of a third wave of infections, according to ICMR chief executive Balram Bhargava.

“More than half of the children (6 to 17 years old) were HIV positive and the seroprevalence was similar in rural and urban areas,” he said – but “states, districts and areas without antibodies are at risk infection waves ”, which means that about 400 million people will still be vulnerable if a third wave hits.

Active immunity, that is, protection against disease, is often measured by the presence of antibodies – proteins in the blood, made by the immune system to help fight infections, acquired either by previous infection or by vaccination.
Vaccinations have resumed in the past two months after the start of the second wave decline, but the country is still not close to its targets. So far, only 6.35% of India’s 1.38 billion people have been fully immunized, according to data from Johns Hopkins University (JHU).

And the country is still recovering from the second wave. Although new daily infections and the number of active cases have steadily declined, government officials are now repeatedly warning the public against complacency.

“I would like to stress today that at hill stations and in markets, large crowds who do not wear masks or follow protocols are a very worrying problem,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on the week last, after the publication of photos of tourists flouting Covid protocols. in vacation destination towns. “It is not correct.”

Underreported cases and deaths

Health workers and scientists have long warned that the actual number of cases and deaths is likely much higher than reported, highlighting the gap between official figures and serological surveys.

India has so far reported around 31.2 million confirmed cases, according to Johns Hopkins University – less than 3% of its total population and considerably less than the proportion of survey respondents with antibodies.

There are several reasons for the gap in reporting, including poor infrastructure, human error, and low test levels.

Although testing rates have increased since the start of the year, there are different structures for reporting cases in different cities and states – and poorer residents might not be able to afford to be away from the hospital. work to get tested or go to a testing center.

Underreporting is prevalent in more rural parts of the country, where logistical challenges such as missing information in the national medical database often arise.

A working paper released Tuesday by the US-based Center for Global Development found that the number of additional deaths reported during the pandemic in India could be up to ten times the official death toll – highlighting just how bad the problem is. of under-reporting is serious.

Between 3.4 and 4.9 million estimated excess deaths were reported in India between January 2020 and June 2021, according to the newspaper – compared to the death toll reported by India’s Ministry of Health of around 400,000.

Asked Tuesday about the underreported deaths in parliament, Mansukh Madaviya, India’s newly appointed health minister, said the government had “no reason to hide the deaths”.

“A lot of people have said that the Indian government is hiding the death toll, the Indian government just compiles and publishes the numbers sent to us by state governments,” he said.

The study was based on three different estimates of excess deaths, using seroprevalence studies from India, excess death data from the Indian Vital Statistics System and mortality surveys from the Center for the Monitoring of the Indian Economy.

Each of these estimates has its limitations, and the number of excess deaths reported does not necessarily equate to Covid-specific deaths, the study acknowledged.

But he concluded that the first wave of the pandemic was “deadlier than is generally believed” and that their estimates show a higher number of excess deaths reported in the first wave than in the second.

“Regardless of the source and estimate, the actual deaths during the Covid pandemic were likely an order of magnitude higher than the official tally,” the study notes. “The real deaths are likely to number in the millions, not the hundreds of thousands, making this arguably India’s worst human tragedy since partition and independence.”

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