According to a nationwide study conducted between June and July by the government-run Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), around 67.6% of Indians surveyed above the age of 6 showed antibodies. The survey covered 70 districts across 21 states with 28,975 participants.
Our immune system develops antibodies either induced by vaccination or in response to infection. The majority of survey participants, 62%, had not received the vaccine; About a quarter had received their first dose.
According to Balram Bhargava, Director General, ICMR, the study’s findings, coupled with the slow vaccination rollout, raise concerns about the possibility of a third wave of infections.
“More than half of the children (ages 6 to 17) were sero-positive, and the sero-prevalence was similar in rural and urban areas,” he said – but “states, districts and areas without antibodies are at risk of infection. ,” means that if a third wave does occur, about 400 million people will still be vulnerable.
And the country is still recovering from the second wave. Although there has been a steady decline in daily new infections and active caseloads, government officials are now repeatedly warning the public against complacency.
Fewer reported cases and deaths
According to Johns Hopkins University, India has reported nearly 31.2 million confirmed cases so far – less than 3% of its total population, and far less than the proportion of survey respondents showing antibodies.
There are several reasons behind the difference in reporting, including poor infrastructure, human error and low testing levels.
Although testing rates have increased since the start of the year, different cities and states have different case reporting structures – and poorer residents will not be able to take time off work to get tested or to travel to a testing center.
Under-reporting is prevalent in more rural parts of the country, where there are often logistical issues such as missing information in national medical databases.
A working paper published on Tuesday by the US-based Center for Global Development found that India’s pandemic death toll could be up to ten times the official death toll – underscoring how serious the underreporting problem is.
An estimated 3.4 to 4.9 million additional deaths were reported in India between January 2020 and June 2021, the newspaper said – compared to the nearly 400,000 deaths reported by the Indian health ministry.
When asked about the under-reported deaths in Parliament on Tuesday, India’s newly-appointed Health Minister Mansukh Madaviya said the government had “no reason to hide the deaths.”
“Many people have said that the Indian government is hiding the death toll, the Indian government simply compiles and publishes the data sent to us from the state governments,” he said.
The study was based on three different estimates of excess deaths, including the India Seroprevalence Study, additional death data from India’s civil registration system, and a mortality survey from the Center to Monitor the Indian Economy.
Each of these estimates has its limitations, and the number of additional deaths reported does not necessarily equate to COVID-specific deaths, the study acknowledged.
But it concluded that the first wave of the pandemic was “more deadly than is popularly believed”, and that their estimates show a higher number of deaths during the first wave than during the second wave.
“Regardless of source and estimate, actual deaths during the COVID pandemic are likely to be an order of magnitude higher than the official count,” the study said. “The true deaths are likely to be in the millions, not hundreds of thousands, making it arguably the worst human tragedy since India’s partition and independence.”