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Help India Now

The international community must join forces and develop a collective approach to help India address its COVID-19 crisis, not only for moral reasons, but also because the health of other countries’ populations and economies are at stake. Governments can take several steps to mitigate the impact.

BOSTON – When I was growing up in northern India’s Kashmir Valley, my physician father would often accompany me when I received my annual vaccinations. I used to ask him how vaccines worked and where they were developed. After explaining the basic biology of the human immune system, my father would highlight how vaccines were the result of global efforts, with scientists and firms around the world working meticulously to ensure that all who received them were protected.

Today, only global action can address the ongoing COVID-19 crisis in India, where the number of daily cases recently exceeded 400,000 (a world record), and more than 245,000 people have died. Epidemiological models from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington project that infections in India will continue to grow exponentially, peaking in mid-May, and that the country’s total COVID-19 death toll could eventually top one million. While the implications for India are dire, global policymakers would be reckless to think that the impact will be limited to one country.

That is because the more the coronavirus spreads and replicates in India, the more it will mutate. Uncontrolled circulation of the virus will lead to the emergence of novel variants that can prolong the pandemic. The B.1.617 variant responsible for the carnage in India has already been observed in 19 other countries, including the United States. Recent reports also suggest that this variant can potentially evade the immune response, which would further exacerbate the strain on health systems. In addition, we do not yet know how much protection currently approved COVID-19 vaccines can provide against B.1.617, which could threaten the effectiveness of global vaccination campaigns.

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