COVID-19 third wave by October; panel says pediatric facilities inadequate
An expert committee set up on the direction of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has said that the third wave of COVID-19 may hit the country by October. The committee, constituted under the National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM), has sought better preparedness for children in its report to the Prime Minister's Office as kids may be at greater risk than adults.
Pediatric facilities nowhere close to what may be required: Committee
The committee noted that pediatric facilities required to tackle a possible third wave are lacking. "Pediatric facilities—doctors, staff, equipment like ventilators, ambulances, etc.—are nowhere close to what may be required in case a large number of children become infected," the report said. The report also expressed concern that the situation may worsen due to "insufficient medical facilities and lagging vaccination."
82% shortage of pediatricians in primary health centers: Report
COVID-19 vaccines have not rolled out for those aged under 18 years in India yet. Further, there is an 82% shortage of pediatricians in primary health centers and 63% vacancies of pediatricians in community health centers, The Times of India reported.
What did the panel recommend?
The report recommended prioritizing COVID-19 vaccinations among children with co-morbidities and a special focus on those with disabilities. The committee recommended, "a holistic home care model, immediate increase in a pediatric medical capacity, prioritizing mental health issues among children." It also recommended restructuring COVID-19 wards in a way to allow kids' attendants or parents to stay with them throughout the recovery.
'States may start enhancing pediatric COVID-19 care facilities'
Santosh Kumar, the coordinator of the committee, said preparedness is key, as evident from the last two waves. "We need to take proactive actions...in anticipation of the third wave. States may start enhancing pediatric COVID-19 care facilities for treatment, ICU, pediatric ambulance, medicine, including pediatrician."
Why does the committee reckon the third wave is imminent?
According to the committee, the increase in the R-value or reproductive rate of COVID-19 from 0.9 to one over the last week of July is a sign that a third wave looms large. "Kerala, which is reporting a high daily caseload of COVID-19 infections is currently showing an R-value of 1.1. This indicates that a third wave is upon us," the experts warned.
When will the third wave likely arrive?
The report considered three 'third wave' scenarios: one where the situation returns to normal, another where more virulent variants emerge, and a third with strict interventions. In scenario one, the report estimated a peak of 3.2 lakh daily infections in October. In scenario two, a peak of five lakh daily infections was predicted in September. Scenario three predicted a less intense peak in October-end.
Centre has allocated Rs. 23,000 crore to tackle third wave
Meanwhile, Union Minister Anurag Thakur said on Friday that the Centre has made a provision of Rs. 23,123 crore to tackle an imminent third wave in the country. Thakur said the emphasis is being given to strengthening pediatric care amid apprehensions that the third wave may disproportionately affect children. Separately, a NITI Aayog group suggested preparing for 23 hospitalizations for every 100 positive cases.
Are children at greater risk?
Experts are divided over the impact of the third wave on children. While some believe there is little to worry about as children are less prone to severe infections, others say the lack of vaccinations among children will leave them unprotected. Notably, India had approved the first COVID-19 vaccine for children, ZyCoV-D, just last week. The three-shot vaccine is the world's first DNA-based vaccine.