Calcutta Notebook

Devil and Deep Blue Sea

Bharat Jhunjhunwala

The Union Government was driving the economy till March as if the Corona virus Pandemic was a one-time catastrophe that will get abated with vaccination of large numbers of people. As it has happened, the Second Wave has come perhaps two months before the widespread vaccination could be done. The Government has avoided imposing lockdown that is being asked for by the medical fraternity. The Modi Government has to choose between the devil and the deep blue sea. The economy will collapse more and people will die less if lockdown is imposed. The economy will collapse less and people will die more if lockdown is not imposed. The bigger issue is that this Second Wave may not be the last; and the present vaccines may not quite work against the future variants of the Corona virus.

Countries have faced third and even fourth waves. More importantly, the Covid-19 virus is mutating. Ewen Callaway writes on website that in January 2021 "biotech firm Novavax released data from clinical trials showing that its experimental vaccine, designed to combat the original virus, was about 85% effective against a variant identified in the United Kingdom - but less than 50% effective against 501Y.V2," which is known as the South Africa variant. This means that the vaccines that are effective against the present strains may not be effective against new mutated strains. Callaway explains that it is normal for viruses to mutate. The influenza virus, for example, mutates frequently. The World Health Organisation has established a Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza in Melbourne, Australia. This centre monitors emerging flu strains for genetic changes that might influence the effectiveness of presently available vaccines for influenza. They continuously assess whether the mutations are "widespread." The stand back and wait and watch if a new strain is localised to one region or country. They start the process of making a new vaccine if they find the new strain to be widespread.

The Corona virus is similarly likely to mutate continuously requiring the production of continuously new vaccines. The present vaccines against the corona virus might have to be updated periodically, as they are for influenza. One doesn't know how much time it may take to update the vaccines and how much damage they may perpetrate before a vaccine is made to combat the new strain. People should not, therefore, be under the impression that they will become free of Corona virus if the entire population of the country is vaccinated.

An alternative approach to combating the Covid-19 Pandemic is to use Phage Therapy. Phages are viruses like the Corona Virus. However, they are beneficent. They kill disease-creating bacteria in the body. That increases the immunity of the body and makes it possible to face the attacks by Corona virus. S. Mert Selimoglu of Pak Group of Companies of Turkey says on the Capsid & Tail Newsletter that one way of dealing with the problem is to administer a mixture of phages as a vaccine. Such mixtures are called "cocktail" in medical parlance. He says that administering a cocktail would enable the vaccine to self-select which bacteria are present in the body. It is like the farmers sowing a mixture of seeds. Those that suit the particular weather grow well; and others die. The Ganga Today Trust based in Uttarakhand has supplied the Ganga water to hundred-odd persons across the country. They have found that 67 percent of those facing mental health problems got relief. The percentage of persons who got relief in other diseases were as follows: neurological problems 56%, digestive problems 55%, dermatological or skin problems 54%, urological problems 50%, arthritis 45%, diabetes 40%, cardio logical problems 36% and respiratory problems 33%. These results are based on small numbers less than 25 patients of each disease. Nevertheless they provide a prima facie evidence for the efficacy of the phages of Ganga river against a number of diseases.

The Government must not run on business-as-usual. The persons in power must plan for all eventualities.

[Formerly Professor of Economics at IIM Bengaluru]

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Vol. 53, No. 45, May 9 - 15, 2021