The percentage of India's population vaccinated against Covid-19 is very low, renowned virologist Dr W. Ian Lipkin said on Saturday and opined the country does not yet have the sort of safety armour needed to start reopening.
Addressing India Today Conclave 2021, he said that India has the largest vaccine manufacturer in the world which the country should be proud of.
"Serum Institute of India is poised to lead here. I think this is something that India should be proud of and should acknowledge and promote," he said.
About the reopening procedure, Lipkin said that the percentage of India's population that is vaccinated is very small.
"Less than 20 per cent of your population that's vaccinated. Then 30 per cent of your population under the age of 18 are not yet eligible for vaccination. So this means that you don't have the sort of armour that you need to safely reopen in that way," he said.
Warning about the long-term effect of Covid-19, the virologist said that people usually don't talk about it "which I think is going to be extraordinary in terms of its impact," he added.
"These are not people who necessarily have acute disease, they may have an only mild form of it, but they remain permanently or at least for a long period, crippled with cognitive dysfunction, shortness of breath, fatigue. This can represent as many as 30 per cent of people who become infected," Lipkin said.
"These individuals, even if the virus were to magically disappear, might continue to be infected and have a huge impact on their lives for decades to come," he said.
Lipkin said there were many lessons from the Spanish flu of 1918 which have not been carried forward.
"I hope we will revise our approach in the future. But I'm not even confident that this is the worst of potential pandemics. We need to make sure that whatever we've learned here carries forward into the next months and years," he said.
He warned there are several more variants of SARS-CoV-2 which are circulating.
"There are variants, already circulating, don't have names. Will they be more capable of transmission? We don't know. Delta variant seems to be extraordinarily well adapted to spread in humans," Lipkin said.
He said that the world needs to start thinking not only about vaccines to prevent severe disease, but also that can prevent transmission.
"We need to improve our public health infrastructure, be able to track and trace individuals who have been exposed so that we can adopt a ring vaccination strategy, which was so successful in India in eradicating smallpox.
"Masking, even if these masks are not what I would consider state-of-the-art can also be useful. But people need to change the way they think about themselves and others and be less selfish," Lipkin added.