MUMBAI: In what could be the first indication of the Covid-19 vaccination drive working, some experts say deaths among the elderly have reduced in the ongoing second wave in Mumbai. London mathematician Murad Banaji has calculated that there have been 40% fewer deaths than expected among the elderly during the second wave.
On Friday, Banaji tweeted: “There isn’t much good news coming out of India. Here’s some: Mumbai’s data is showing what looks like vaccines reducing fatalities.”
Calling the effect significant, he said: “Deaths in the over-60s this week are around 40% less than expected based on trends up to late March and deaths in under-60s.”
The timing is about right as the vaccination drive for the 60-plus started on March 1 and the “first hints” of an effect were apparent by April 8, said Banaji. Healthcare professionals, among them Dr Shashank Joshi, say they are sceptical. Dr Joshi, member of the state government task force on Covid-19, said it was too early to make correlations between the vaccination drive and deaths.
At present, only 18.5 lakh of the Mumbai’s 1.4 crore population has taken at least one dose of either the Covishield or the Covaxin vaccine.
Dr Gagandeep Kang from the Christian Medical College, Vellore, who has worked extensively with vaccines, said: “We will need to immunise at least 30% of people before we begin to see the effect that is driven by vaccines alone.” BMC executive health officer Dr Mangala Gomare said the public health department, too, had noted a drop in deaths among the elderly. “However, we are still working out the details,” she said.
While many doctors in Mumbai acknowledge that the Covid-19 vaccination has possibly reduced the severity of symptoms among people, the stark effect of vaccination as seen in countries such as Israel and the UK, where 60% and 50% of the population, respectively, has got at least the first shot, is missing. In India, only 8.3% of the population has been vaccinated so far.
There is evidence trickling in from other countries that vaccinations have led to fewer hospitalisations. “The latest being the UK, which has reported 70% drop in hospitalisations,” said Dr Kang. In Israel, residents of some areas are allowed to walk out without a face mask. “The vaccines we have do work,” said Dr Kang. “When the data on positive people who do not or rarely need hospitalisation is available at scale, it will tell us that the vaccines are working.”