A shot of hope with a game changing vaccine-THE HINDU-20-04-2020


Over the initial phase of the national lockdown , India reported a 20-fold increase in confirmed SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 cases , and a 36-fold increase in deaths . The case-fatality of 2% to 3% is indicative of the large number of deaths India can expect. The lockdown has been extended to May 3. The dire socio-economic consequences and the scale of human tragedy that play out daily make a prolonged total lockdown undesirable.

Lessons from HIV pandemic:

The early years of the HIV/AIDS pandemic were also a time of global panic. Since there was no treatment, a diagnosis of HIV infection was a death sentence. The blame game targeted world leaders and international agencies. The preparedness of health systems, societal prejudices and socio-economic inequities were starkly exposed.

These measures conflicted with prevailing cultural, social, religious, behavioural and legal norms. IEC and SBCC activities targeted individuals, families, community leaders, peer-led community networks and social and health systems to change attitudes and behaviours. Religious and community leaders were key change agents.

Maintaining physical distancing in social situations and wearing cloth masks or facial coverings in public by 100% of people is key to preventing infection along with regular disinfection of oneself and one’s surroundings. Effective and innovative IEC and SBCC strategies should address the barriers and facilitators to implementation. People are more likely to practise these behaviours if all leaders promote them publicly and consistently, the whole community believes in their importance, and if proper information, support, and materials are available and accessible. Building trust is key if government-imposed mitigation strategies are to be embraced by the population.

The components of the social vaccine should be in place before relaxing or lifting the lockdown. There is still no biomedical vaccine for HIV/AIDS. Considering the limited efficacy and uptake of influenza vaccines, vaccines for SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 may not provide a panacea. Effective treatments to reduce deaths with COVID-19 may emerge, but till then, and even afterwards, a social vaccine is needed.

A social vaccine can build societal immunity to the devastating effects of future pandemics by the lessons learned about addressing the root causes, and our responses to the current one.

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