No Community Transmission, Just ‘Localised Outbreaks’: Govt

Clinical trials of India’s indigenous vaccine candidates are yet to begin, the health ministry shared on 9 July.

3 min read
After a gap of almost a month, the health ministry held a press briefing on Thursday, 9 July.

After a gap of almost a month, the health ministry held a press briefing on Thursday, 9 July, and claimed that India has still not entered the ‘community transmission’ phase. Instead, some geographical areas in the country have seen ‘localised outbreaks’. “We shouldn’t forget that 49 districts alone account for 80 percent of the total COVID-19 cases in India,” Rajesh Bhushan, OSD, Ministry of Health said.

When asked what defined localised outbreaks and how they are different from community transmission, he answered, “The World Health Organization (WHO) has also not provided any standard definition of the localised outbreak and community transmission. They have given its member states the right to report after assessing the local conditions.”

With a presentation on India’s progress, the government said that India’s cases per million of the population as well as deaths per million were among the lowest in the world.

“We are the second-most populous country of the world. Despite a population of 1.3 Bn people, India has been able to manage COVID-19 relatively well. If you look at cases per million population it still remains amongst lowest in the world.”
Rajesh Bhushan

However, there was no mention of the tests per million being conducted in the country, which would inadvertently affect the deaths as well as cases being registered. As of 8 July, India had one of the lowest testing rates among the worst affected countries. For instance, while the US has conducted 117,211 tests per million, only 7,588 per million have been conducted in India.

Further, Bhushan spoke about the caseload of the infection in the country - which is the number of active cases at 2,69,789 - while the number of recoveries was almost 1.75 times more at 4,76,378. “We have managed a situation where our healthcare infrastructure is not unduly burdened or creaking because of the pressure,” he said.

ICMR Serosurvey Results Being ‘Peer-Reviewed’: Govt

On 11 June, the ICMR had shared preliminary data from the first pan-India serosurvey conducted in collaboration with state health departments, NCDC and WHO India, observing that only 0.73% of those studied had evidence of past exposure to the infection.

However, these results were only from the first part of the survey, which focused on the general population as data from containment zones was still being collected. The ICMR had also noted in its results that the “infection in containment zones were found to be high with significant variations (survey still ongoing).”

When asked about the survey today, the ICMR representative simply said that the results had been shared a month ago ‘to quite a large extent’ and subsequent serosurveys will be conducted in the future with their details released in the public domain.

Rajesh Bhushan added that since all such studies are subject to peer-review, those inputs need to be incorporated before putting out further data, he said. "In the near future, ICMR is planning a follow-up seroprevalence study pan India to the earlier sero-surveillance that they had done for mid-April infections.”

Indigenous Vaccine Clinical Trials Yet to Start, Letter Intent Was to Fast track Process

In a letter from an internal communication between ICMR to all the sites selected to carry out Phase 1 and 2 of clinical trials of the vaccine on Thursday, 3, July, ICMR had written, “It is envisaged to launch the vaccine for public health use latest by 15 August, 2020 after completion of all clinical trials. BBIL is working expeditiously to meet the target, however the final outcome will depend on the cooperation of all clinical trial sites involved in this project. ”

The health ministry said that this was only to ‘expedite duly approved clinical trials without compromising on safety and security concerns’.

Explaining the 'spirit’ behind the letter, Dr Nivedita Gupta from the ICMR said at the press briefing that the processes to develop our own indigenous vaccine candidates needed to be fast-tracked.

“We shouldn’t miss the bus. We need vaccines today. If we follow the conventional methods and bring in the vaccine after two years, it won’t help us. So the restlessness in the government and the ICMR is to make it available as soon as possible for the country’s citizens.”
Dr Nivedita Gupta

The government also added that the two vaccines, Bharat Biotech’s as well as Zydus Cadila’s had undergone proper animal trials and the data had been submitted to DCGI.

Furthermore, responding to WHO’s acknowledgement of the ‘emerging evidence’ of airborne transmission of the novel coronavirus, Bhushan said, “It is a dynamic and evolving situation; we are keeping abreast with the information coming from WHO headquarters on this aspect.”

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