Confident of Covid vaccine by next year, India must plan for doses now; says Harvard health expert

Ashish Jha tells Rahul Gandhi that Covid-19 is not the last pandemic the world is seeing

Aditi Tandon

Tribune News Service

New Delhi, May 27

Public health leader and chief of the Harvard Global Health Institute Ashish Jha on Wednesday expressed confidence that a COVID19 vaccine would be ready by the next year and exhorted India to start planning now on how it would procure the scale of around 60 crore doses that it would require for its population.

In a conversation with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi who has been engaging global experts on COVID and its consequences, Jha also said the world was entering a stage of large global pandemic and COVID would not be the last one it sees.

“Three vaccine candidates currently under development are showing promise. One is a US vaccine, one Chinese and the third is an Oxford vaccine. I do not know which one will work, may be all will, may be one. But I am very confident that a vaccine will be ready by the next year. So India has to have a plan looking at how much vaccination would be available once it becomes possible. So that’s an area where there has to be a lot of focus starting now,” Jha said to Gandhi, adding that COVID19 would continue for the next 12 to 18 months and the world would not be as we knew it.

Jha also said he believed India had the capacity to ramp up testing to higher levels than present.

“You should be testing everybody with symptoms. Then you should have a strategy for surveillance of high-risk areas and then you have to sort of think of our high-risk areas. That is where you really have to customize it to individuals,” Jha said.

He added, “From everything I know about India and testing, on which I do know something, I am not convinced that India could not do much more testing than it does right now. I don’t know why it couldn’t. It is moving forward, they’ve been doing 80,000-100,000 tests a day now. That is good, that is real progress from where things were. I don’t know what prevents us from doing many times that. If we can get up to that level of capacity, then yes, we can test migrant workers before they get out.”

Jha also termed the debate on herd immunity a terrible idea.

“Some people who say that in places like India we’ll just let herd immunity happen and let hundreds of millions of people get infected. That is a terrible idea because it will lead to millions dying, including a lot of young people with this condition. We have to take a strategy that tries to protect everybody, particularly older people and younger people with chronic disease,” the global expert said.

He did not encourage the weather argument so much and said no one knows enough about the virus to say summers will impact its behaviour.

On lockdown, Jha said when India opens up the economy it will have to create a certain level of confidence. 

“The economy resides on confidence because if people are scared, they will not engage in economic activity. So you have to create some amount of confidence. It is a complicated thing. I haven’t seen any country in the world do it brilliantly.  But everybody is kind of making their way through this,” he added.

Jha also warned the young against adopting a cavalier approach.

“We are finding more and more that even healthy young people end up getting very sick from this disease. So we should not be too cavalier even for otherwise what looks like healthy young people,” he warned.


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