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Coronavirus India: More than two-thirds of population may have antibodies, new survey shows

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

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

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

The study findings, combined with a slow spread of vaccination, raise concerns about the possibility of a third wave of infections, according to ICMR Director General Balram Bhargava.

“More than half of the children (6 to 17 years old) were sero-positive and sero-prevalence was similar in rural and urban areas,” he said – but “states, districts and antibody-free areas are at risk of becoming infected.” namely about 400 million people will still be vulnerable if a third wave hits.

Active immunity, which means protection from a disease, is often measured by the presence of antibodies – proteins in the blood, made by the immune system to help fight infections, acquired either through pre-infection or vaccination.
Vaccinations have risen in the last two months as the second wave began to subside – but the country is still nowhere near its goals. So far, only 6.35% of India’s 1.38 billion population has been fully vaccinated, according to data from Johns Hopkins University (JHU).

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

“I would like to point out today that in the hill stations and in the markets, large crowds who are not wearing masks or protocols are pursuing a rather worrying issue,” said Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week, after photos of tourists clashed over Covid protocols in holiday destination cities. “This is not right.”

Underreported cases and deaths

Health professionals and scientists have long warned that the true number of cases and deaths is likely much higher than reported, showing the discrepancy between official figures and sero-surveys.

To date, India has reported about 31.2 million confirmed cases, according to Johns Hopkins University – less than 3% of its total population, and drastically lower than the percentage of respondents in the survey showing antibodies.

There are several reasons behind the reporting gap, including poor infrastructure, human error, and low testing levels.

Although testing rates have increased since the beginning of the year, there are different case reporting structures in different cities and states – and poorer residents may not be able to afford the free time to be tested. , or to travel to a test center.

Under-reporting is prevalent in the more rural parts of the country, where there are often logistical issues such as missing information in the national medical database.

A working paper published Tuesday by the U.S.-based Center for Global Development found that the number of excessive deaths reported during India’s pandemic could be up to ten times the official death toll – underscoring how serious the problem is. of underreporting.

Between 3.4 and 4.9 million surplus deaths were reported in India between January 2020 and June 2021, the paper said – compared to the Indian Ministry of Health’s reported death toll of around 400,000.

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

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

As Covid cleans India, experts say cases and deaths are not reported

The study was based on three different estimates of surplus deaths, using overestimation studies of India, surplus death data from India’s civil registration system and mortality surveys from the Center for Monitoring the Indian Economy.

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

But they concluded that the first wave of the pandemic was “more deadly than widely believed”, and that their estimates show a higher number of surplus deaths reported during the first wave than the second.

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

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