Covid-19 antibodies have been detected in 67% of the population of India, according to a new survey, indicating how widely the virus spread through communities during the second wave.
India’s fourth national sero-survey, which examines the prevalence of Covid-19 antibodies either through infection or vaccination, found that 67.6% of the population of more than 1.3 billion has coronavirus antibodies.
The survey also demonstrated the slow pace of India’s vaccination programme. Of those surveyed, 62.2% had not been vaccinated, 24.8% had taken one dose and 13% were fully vaccinated.
The survey result marks a significant rise from the last such survey which was conducted in December and January and found that just 24% of the population had antibodies. This recent survey was carried out in the final weeks of June and beginning of July, just as the second wave had abated, interviewing almost 29,000 people across India.
“The findings clearly show that there is a ray of hope but there is no room for complacency,” said Balram Bhargava, director general of the Indian Council for Medical Research.
Bhargava warned that the survey showed 400 million Indians still did not have antibodies, and so were vulnerable to the third wave that experts are predicting will hit India within the next few months. In states such as Kerala and Assam, there has already been a severe spike in cases in recent days.
The high prevalence of antibodies was mainly attributed to the virulent second wave which struck India in April. The virus spread like wildfire through both urban and rural areas, overwhelming hospitals and leading to a widespread shortage of oxygen. The government has been widely condemned by opposition politicians this week for claiming there was not a single death in India due to a lack of oxygen, despite hundreds of reports to the contrary.
Prior to the second wave hitting India, the government was accused of creating a “culture of complacency” by loosening Covid restrictions and allowing mass religious and recreational gatherings where the virus was able to spread, fuelled by the highly transmissible Delta variant which emerged in India.
India’s official death toll from Covid-19 is more than 400,000 but that is believed to be a huge undercount, particularly when taking into consideration the results of the latest serosurvey. A new report released by the Centre for Global Development this week concluded that excess deaths in India during the pandemic could be as high as 4.7 million, 10 times the official toll.
In the latest sero-survey, the age group with the highest prevalence was the 45-60 bracket, where over 77% had Covid-19 antibodies, while 66% of those between 18 and 44 were found to have antibodies.