• One-third of global infections stem from XBB.1.5 variant, says health expert
• Combination of antiviral medicines can be more effective; mRNA vaccine best shield
• Vaccines for polio, hepatitis, tuberculosis, measles can help fight Covid

ISLAMABAD: While one-third of the global Covid-19 infections are because of the same variant of the coronavirus, the treatment of the disease has undergone a paradigm shift and it is now generally believed that a combination of antiviral medicines can be more effective against the dreaded virus, which has infected more than 672 million people and killed over 6.7m across the globe.

Moreover, the messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) vaccine, which targets the original strain of the coronavirus and has shown an efficacy rate of more than 90 per cent in preventing Covid-19, is considered the best shield against the disease.

Prof Dr Javed Akram, a health expert and member of the scientific task force on Covid-19, told Dawn it had been observed over the years that people treated with a combination of antiviral medicines had recovered quicker as compared to others.

“As Covid-19 was a new virus for the globe, so initially any medicine that was supposed to be effective was declared treatment or allowed as an emergency use,” he said. “Even chloroquine, a medication primarily used to prevent and treat malaria, was used to recover and avoid Covid-19. Later, a number of herbs were considered to be a treatment of the infection.”

“However, after a number of studies, it is now being considered that more than one antiviral medicine is better for the treatment of Covid-19. In Pakistan, a study titled ‘Pakistan Pandemiced Clinical Trial in Coronavirus Treatment’ was held at 13 centres and had a similar result,” he said.

Replying to a question, Dr Akram said that the XBB.1.5 Covid-19 subvariant — a new version of the Omicron variant — was sweeping through the United States, Canada, China and several other countries, and around 30 per cent of current infections were due to the same variant.

“It is too early to say that the new variant is more virulent, but it has been proved that it is more transmissible. Moreover, it is yet to be proved that if it evades vaccines,” he said.

However, mRNA vaccines, necessary for protein production, are still being considered the best against the virus and they have been modified twice by Moderna and Pfizer,“ he said, referring to the two American pharmaceutical companies pioneering the technology.

To another question, Dr Akram said that now the world was moving to hold studies to analyse the effectiveness of booster doses of the vaccine.

“Chinese studies regarding booster trials can be held in Pakistan, as in China, by law, boosters have been administered to 100pc of the population, but in Pakistan, around 70pc of the population has yet to receive booster doses. Studies are required to analyse the efficacy, protection level and side effects of booster doses,” he said.

When asked why there were fewer cases in Pakistan while the number of infections was increasing in other countries, Dr Akram said that the immune system of Pakistanis was much better compared to other nations because they have exposure to vaccines.

“We get vaccines through the Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) and a number of other vaccines. Even the polio vaccine, which is mandatory to use while travelling abroad, enhances the immune system,” he said.

Similarly, vaccines for hepatitis, tuberculosis, measles, etc., were given to people and were becoming helpful in fighting Covid-19, he said, adding: “I would suggest that people should maintain the Vitamin D level in the body as, according to a study, it also expedites recovery rate after infection.”

Published in Dawn, January 23th, 2023

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