JNS: COVID-19 prevalence appears to have reached an endemic stage in India, said Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, Chief Scientist of World Health Organisation (WHO).

COVID-19 is expected to assume the form of an endemic by the end of 2022, said Dr. Swaminathan in an interview with The Wire, (published on 24 August).

“As far as India is concerned, it appears to be that way, and because of India’s size and heterogeneity in terms of population and immunity status in different parts of the country, it’s very possible that the situation will continue to fluctuate in different parts of the country, especially where there are more susceptible populations,” she said.

“People can learn to live with the virus in the endemic stage if they are willing to accept it,” she adding that “vaccination and COVID-19-appropriate behaviour will help support this transition.”

She said by the end of 2022 the world would be in a position to have achieved vaccine coverage of 70 percent, and then countries can get back to normal.

On the prevalence of COVID among children, Swaminathan said parents need not panic as children luckily have very mild illnesses most of the time, even if they get infected. But she said preparing hospitals for pediatric admissions, pediatric intensive care is going to serve our health system in many ways for other illnesses children have. “But we should not panic about thousands of children crowding into ICUs,” she added.

According to the experts, an endemic is a disease that is consistently present but limited to a particular area. This means that the disease spread and rate of illness is predictable.

Dr Samiran Panda, ICMR’s Division of Epidemiology and Communicable Diseases said, once the virus reaches its endemic stage, annual vaccination may be required.

“The COVID-19 virus will reach its endemic stage like influenza after a while. Then, the vulnerable population may have to get vaccinated annually,” Dr Panda said.

“Commonly known as flu, influenza was a pandemic 100 years ago but today it is endemic. Similarly, in the case of COVID-19, it is expected that it will gradually become endemic from its current stage of pandemic,” he added.

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