Omicron: ‘Karnataka prepared for third Covid wave’

Omicron scare: ‘Karnataka prepared for third Covid wave,’ says Sudhakar

Karnataka is keen to administer booster doses of the vaccine, he said

Health Minister Dr K Sudhakar. Credit: DH Photo

The Omicron threat has the state government not only scrambling to increase vaccination coverage but also pushing for booster doses for the population and looking for ways to keep children and college students safe. In an interaction with Akhil Kadidal of DH, Health Minister K Sudhakar expressed his thoughts about the evolving pandemic and why vaccinations for children may not immediately be available - or even necessary.

How prepared is Karnataka for a third wave?

We have augmented our capacity in beds and oxygen supply significantly. The number of ICU beds in Karnataka before Covid was only 725. Currently, the state has 3,877 ICU beds in government medical colleges and government hospitals - an increase of 5-6 times. There were 4,847 oxygenated beds before Covid.

There is a clamour for booster shots, especially by healthcare workers and senior citizens. When will we get booster shots?

Karnataka is keen to administer booster doses of the vaccine as part of our plan to prevent a third wave of Covid in the state. This has been discussed even in the high-level committee. We have urged the Union government to allow the state to administer the dose. We are expecting a nod from them soon. The need for the booster dose is being felt especially for the frontline workers who got vaccinated at the beginning of the vaccination campaign.

Will the state be able to launch a booster dose programme alongside ongoing first and doses?

Yes, we are equipped to roll out a booster dose campaign along with the vaccination programme. We have a staff of nearly 10,000 personnel.

Will the new anti-Covid drugs be made available in Karnataka?

We should get emergency use authorization approval for the Merck drug Molnupiravir. Another pill from Pfizer, Paxlovid, may take some more time to get approval.

In light of Covid-19 clusters being found in educational centres, did we open up schools and colleges too early?

We are taking all necessary and precautionary steps to prevent further spread. The government has already directed schools and colleges to postpone all social and cultural events by two months.

When will child vaccination start in Karnataka?

Experts are considering this issue. The Health Ministry has analysed the uptake of vaccines in other countries and in the 12-17 year age-group (in other countries), the uptake is low. Our analysis is that it is less than 1%. The Union government has said that there is scientific evidence that a majority of children, especially young children, do not develop the severe disease when they contract the virus (Sars-CoV-2). 

Does that mean that the Zydus-Cadilla’s vaccine ZyCoV-D is not needed or will not be made available for children?

ZyCoV-D has received emergency use authorization for individuals 12 years and above and will be included in the public immunisation drive - but only for 18 years and above. The government is not willing to take the risk for children as young as 12 years.

What about the Covaxin paediatric vaccine?

This has already been recommended for use in children aged 2-18 years and a final nod for emergency use authorisation (EUA) from the DCGI is awaited.

What are your thoughts about the new Omicron variant?

My discussions with international medical experts suggest that Omicron may be a milder variant and not warranting ICU hospitalisation. However, until we have details, caution and not fear is the key. I urge people to mask up, maintain social distance and take all safety precautions.

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