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Time to address corona vaccine dilemma

The real test will come as India widens its vaccination net

Time to address corona vaccine dilemma

Time to address corona vaccine dilemma

The Ministry of Health had announced that the vaccine rollout in India would begin from 16 January, starting withhealthcare workers, and then moving to frontline workers and people above the age of 50.

Some doctors have doubts about the safety and efficacy of the vaccines, and some want more clarity and about the sign-up process for inoculation. Senior doctors insist that awareness campaigns are the need of the hour.

On 3 January, the Drug Controller General of India gave emergency use authorisation to Serum Institute of India's Covishield (developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca) and Bharat Biotech's Covaxin, even though the latter hadn't published any efficacy data, and AstraZeneca had made a dosage error during trial.

The Indian Medical Association put out a statement, encouraging all its 3.5 lakh members to "voluntarily come out to get vaccinated first to show to the world that these vaccines are safe and efficacious".

"We stand with the scientists to endorse the safety and efficacy of both these vaccines, so public awareness and countering myths on vaccine percolating in social media shall be our priority. Our modern medicine doctors will vouch for the safety, quality and professionalism in this difficult time and support the emergency approval for the usage of vaccines," read the IMA's statement.

The government hasn't announced which vaccine will be supplied first, or if both will be supplied together.

While it is good news that vaccines have been approved, it's too early to ask people to get vaccinated as there isn't adequate efficacy data yet. Many nurses and doctors have second thoughts about taking the dose.

Several doctors say it's important to weigh the pros and cons. We may joke among ourselves about being guinea pigs, but we are looking forward to the vaccine. In an emergency situation, it's important to look at the greater good that can come out of it.

Doubters exist everywhere. India is one of the biggest vaccine manufacturers in the world, and it's important to look at it positively. It's also important to remember it is a voluntary procedure, and no one can be forced.

The availability of information about these vaccines in the public domain is another issue doctors have flagged.

Another issue healthcare workers have raised is the lack of information about the sign-up process for vaccination, as well as a general lack of communication about the programme.

The inoculation campaign across the world's second-most populous country will showcase whether Covid-19 can be swiftly tamed in nations with disjointed health and transportation networks. Officially, more than 10.5 million people in India have been infected with the disease that has also killed over 150,000 in the country.

India's rollout is one of the earliest and most ambitious in Asia, where many nations are taking a slower approach in vaccinating their populations. That's partly because those countries are facing less severe virus outbreaks than India, which has the second-highest number of infections in the world.

The country has made its first purchase of 11 million Astra shots, as well as 5.5 million vials of Covaxin, the indigenous inoculation produced by Bharat Biotech. Plans drawn up by India's health ministry outline steps to vaccinate 300 million people in the first stage through August. In an initial round, 30 million health care and front line workers - such as the police and defense forces - will receive injections. The second phase is targeted at about 270 million people above the age of 50 and those at particular risk to Covid.

It is unclear whether every State, district, every vaccine site will get both, and if Indians will get a choice. People have questions about both, but particularly about one of them. That is the trickiest part of this rollout.

Government officials have been adamant that both vaccines are safe and have urged the public to get inoculated. For now, health experts and industry specialists are confident the initial phase in urban centers will be relatively well managed. The real test will come as India widens its vaccination net.

Health authorities in Norway have warned that Covid-19 vaccines may be too risky for those who are very old and frail and are adjusting its recommendations for vaccinating such people.

Vincent Fernandes
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