As mass dry run begins, India should watch out for these errors over COVID vaccination
New Delhi, Jan 02: An expert panel of India's Central Drug Authority has recommended granting permission for restricted emergency use of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine Covishield, being manufactured by the Serum Institute of India, paving the way for the roll-out of the first Covid-19 shot in the country in the next few days.
All states and Union Territories, meanwhile, have begun conducting a dry run for Covid-19 vaccination to test the linkages between planning and implementation. The activity is proposed to be conducted in all state capitals in at least 3 session sites.
Stage 3 clinical trials involve tens of thousands of healthy volunteers. But mass vaccinations involve millions with unknown vulnerabilities. Serious adverse events must be avoided and not normalised, as part of vaccination drives.
Experiences of vaccinated individuals in the UK getting severe reactions dent public faith in rapid approvals.
Untested vaccine candidate
Vaccines get emergency use approvals to vaccinate healthy individuals. Vaccination of untested vulnerable groups is an unnecessary exercise with unknown risks. Left unchecked, this can escalate into a catastrophe real quick.
Indigenous vaccine candidates are still in trials, and India must look at vaccination in the long term.
To fight COVID-19, we don't need many cheap vaccines. We need a vaccine which confers long-term protection. Writing off vaccines without knowledge about their effectiveness can be a costly mistake.
A trial volunteer has filed a lawsuit against Serum Institute of India alleging its vaccine is unsafe. In response, the vaccine manufacturer is countersuing the volunteer for damaging its reputation. What is lost in this exchange of accusations is that the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) has not submitted its analysis of the incident. Instead, it has allowed the trial to continue.
That the entire episode was under wraps till the lawsuit was filed is worrying. A quick redressal for doubts, fears and complaints is the need of the hour.
Not the end of the pandemic
Haryana's health minister volunteered for a vaccine trial and tested COVID-19 positive 15 days later shows that vaccines are not immediately effective.
There is much that we do not know about vaccines. Pfizer does not know if vaccinating people stops transmission of the virus. AstraZeneca claims its candidate can reduce transmission by only 27 percent.
Should people then indulge in an overtly active lifestyle? As no one knows how long immunity is conferred by these vaccine candidates, selling vaccines as the 'end of the pandemic' must be stopped.
Instead, a vaccine should be presented to be an additional tool to fight the pandemic. Physical distancing, mask usage, testing, tracing and isolating will remain the means to fight COVID-19 even after the vaccine becomes available.