PESHAWAR: The local physicians are concerned over low vaccination against Covid-19 and have called for escalating immunisation as well as booster dose to save people from the virus, especially Omicron, which is likely to spread in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in near future.

“Omicron variant of coronavirus is going to cause a surge in the number of Covid-19 cases in our country including Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in coming days as this infection is unlikely to be prevented by the two doses of vaccine,” Prof Khalid Mahmood, a physician at Lady Reading Hospital, told Dawn.

He said that booster dose was strongly advised especially to those people, who received second dose of the vaccine six months ago. Those, who have completed their dose of vaccination, must go for booster as the severity of infection is reportedly less in the vaccinated people as compared to unvaccinated lot.

Furthermore, the overall mortality rate from this variant in UK and other western countries is also less as compared to Delta and other variants.

Deaths per million people due to this variant are around 1.47 that are less than one-tenth of the fatality rate recorded a year ago. Also, the peak of Omicron infection is over in South Africa where the mutant strain originated without any significant mortality.

Prof Khalid said that the number of coronavirus infections continued to decline due to which people were getting relaxed as they were ignoring use of face mask, hand wash, social distancing and other preventive measures.

“No one should feel relaxed. We must continue to follow social distancing, face masking, hand sanitisation or washing and go ahead with vaccination,” he added.

Prof Ziaul Haq, the vice-chancellor of Khyber Medical University, said that booster dose was highly recommended for fully immunised people in view of Omicron.

He said that KMU’s Public Health Reference Laboratory (PHRL) was the main Covid Lab of the province that was conducting 4,000 to 6,000 PCR tests on daily basis within 24 hours. The laboratory is linked with health department and National Command and Operation Centre.

“Our recently established Advanced Centre for Genomic Technologies (ACGT) is conducting surveillance of variants of concern including Omicron. As per standard procedure, all variant detection results are reported to health department and National Institute of Health Islamabad,” he said.

Prof Zia said that the laboratory itself did not announce results of tests owing to data security and patient confidentiality.

"A total of 205 Covid-19 positive samples have been processed so far and the data shows that all samples are Delta variant and there is no Omicron variant."

“However, projections and international trends are alarming and we may have a very heavy fifth wave on our way with predominant Omicron variant,” he said. The doubling time of Omicron is two to three days compared to two-week of Delta and this may lead to a tsunami of cases.

Prof Zia said that the Omicron variant had a high number of asymptomatic cases, therefore, the unknown positive cases in Pakistan may already be very high than the reported ones.

“Fortunately, the fatality is not very high with Omicron than Delta but with very high number of cases the hospitalisations and deaths will automatically increase and are expected to rise in late January particularly in partially or unvaccinated and other vulnerable people,” he said.

He said that he knew that people were exhausted, but it could be the ‘last’ wave as majority of the people would get immunity, natural or acquired. Treating it with ignorance may lead to a undesired ending, he said.

“To minimise severe infection, associated hospitalisation and the number of deaths, we should vaccinate (preferably triple vaccination) ourselves and people around us at the earliest and follow standard operating procedure,” he said.

Prof Zia said that health workers, federal and provincial governments, armed forces, academia, media, civil society and many others under the NCOC made an unprecedented effort in making Pakistan one of the successful case-studies during the previous waves of the pandemic. “They will do well this time with maximum number of expected cases than all previous waves,” he added.

Published in Dawn, January 3rd, 2022

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