INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – India on Wednesday reported its highest daily total of COVID-19 infections with 267,334 new cases.
According to the ministry of health, 25.5 million people have been infected so far and 283,248 have died. This puts India’s death toll as the second highest behind the United States.
A mysterious variant has overtaken the country and the situation is out of control. News 8 spoke with Dr. Amy Beth Kressel, an infectious disease specialist at Eskenazi Health, to explain what’s going on.
Gillis: Would you be able to give us an update about what’s going on in India?
Kressel: I don’t know if everyone knows exactly what happened in India. There’s not been enough testing of the virus there to know if this was all a new variant — the new Indian variant that emerged. But we know they don’t have high vaccination rates yet. They aren’t using the same vaccines we are.
Gillis: They are using something different? What are they using?
Kressel: They do have their homegrown vaccines. They have AstraZeneca. I do not believe they have a lot of Pfizer or Moderna and the construction of those vaccines they were using in India may not be as effective as the vaccines we’re using in the U.S.
We know their vaccination rates are not as high. Very early on there were a lot of deaths, but cases dropped. And I think they thought they had turned the corner. They had a lot of religious festivals, pilgrimages, large rallies and then they got this second wave. So my belief is it’s a combination of a lack of immunity, possibly a new variant thrown in but also relaxing too soon, just thinking that the crisis was over and allowing large gatherings and rallies without proper protection. And now you can see what’s happening there.
But we can also look at what’s happening in South America. They are also suffering from fierce COVID waves right now. And, again, it just shows how important it is to … nobody expects this public health emergency to last forever. Nobody wants it to last forever. But until you get a certain amount of the population vaccinated and also get the rates really low you really have to be cautious.
The CDC is projecting cases will continue to decrease through the summer. But we also know it’s not even. As a whole, the cases in the United States are dropping. But in Indiana they are rising. Why that is I think is complicated. It’s already May, so it may or may not be related to March Madness. We just don’t know. It could be a spillover from Michigan. Who knows at this point. But not everyone is going to follow the same trajectory at the same time. I think we’ve seen this over and over in the last 14 months, where you’ll have hotspots in some parts of the country and then hotspots elsewhere. And it’s really variable.
Outdoors I feel fine not wearing my mask if I’m not in a crowd, but I’m still wearing my mask in indoor settings if I’m not in my own house.
Gillis: Same here.
Kressel: I think we’ll still have to be really careful and look around and understand this is not going to be one steady decline. This could be a very stuttering decline. Again, in Indiana our cases have been dropping and now they are rising. Hopefully they will drop again, but people need to still be careful and hopefully get vaccinated at the nearest opportunity.
And if I could, Eskenazi Health is offering walk-ins at our vaccine site. It’s open Monday through Saturday 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. As much as I would love people to come to Eskenazi, CVS and Walgreens are also taking walk-ins. There are CVS and Walgreens all over this city, all over this state. There’s vaccines available.
Gillis: Right. We want to make sure it’s available and they can get it.
Kressel: And it can be a last minute decision, right? You could be out getting your prescription at CVS and just get the vaccine.
Gillis: And last question. Indiana has over 2 million people vaccinated. What are your thoughts on how we’re doing in terms of vaccines?
Kressel: I think the state roll out was very effective. I don’t think the current lag is the lack of vaccines. Originally in December, we didn’t have enough vaccines for everybody and we did not allow everyone to get vaccinated. Now, we have vaccines. So availability is not the issue. There are vaccines out there for people who want it.
Like you said, I think there are pockets of people who are still hesitant and again — I’ve said this many times — what data are you waiting for? We already know. Well over 550,000 people — more than that — have died in the United States alone. We know that these newer variants seem to be more severe. We know it’s not gone. We know the vaccine is safe. All the data says our vaccines are very safe and very effective.
And we know it’s not like influenza. People are saying this is just like influenza and it just isn’t. Over a 14-month span in the United States — in my lifetime and in the lifetime of anyone watching — we’ve never had an influenza season that killed more than 550,000 people.
Gillis: Right. When you put it that way, it’s unreal. And there’s never been a flu season that’s lasted 14 months. That’s a great way to put it.