Covid-19 Vaccine Matters: Roadblocks aplenty for India
Vaccination in India was always going to be a mammoth challenge, given its population of nearly 1.4 billion citizens.
Prime Minister Modi's accelerated vaccination drive, currently under way, is hitting several snags along the way. After rolling out a heroic plan for all aged between 18 and 44 years, only 5 crore people, representing just 8% of that population group, have been vaccinated so far. Among these, only a miniscule percentage have been fully vaccinated. The problem becomes even more complex once the digital divide and differential prices of vaccines across hospitals comes into the picture.
Meanwhile, the Centre dismissed reports of the Co-WIN portal being hacked and data of those vaccinated being leaked online. Reports of an alleged hack of the vaccination site surfaced on Thursday, with pictures of a website on the dark web that claimed to be hawking the names, mobile numbers, Aadhaar IDs and location data of 15 crore vaccinated citizens.
In a stunning claim, a group of public health experts said mass, indiscriminate and incomplete vaccination can trigger emergence of mutant strains and recommended that there is no need to inoculate those who had documented coronavirus infection. The report, submitted to PM Modi, says while it makes perfect sense to vaccinate all adults, amid limited resources, the focus should be to reduce deaths. Vaccinating those in the 18-44 age group, given the present constraints, will not be cost-effective.
Bharat Biotech's Covaxin will likely take longer to get approval in the United States after Ocugen, the US partner for Bharat Biotech, was asked to submit more data from an additional clinical trial by the USFDA. Covaxin's approval is key because it still has not received regulatory nod from the World Health Organization (WHO).
G7 leaders also agreed to expand global Covid vaccine manufacturing and provide one billion doses to the world through sharing and financing schemes after an earlier announcement by the United States vowing 500 million shots to poor and middle-income countries.
As worries over the Delta variant, first seen in India, grow, the larger concern is whether vaccines will remain effective against it. While the Delta variant is less sensitive than alpha to antibodies generated by the vaccines, data from Public Health England shows that the first dose of the Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech SE and AstraZeneca Plc vaccines provide only about a 30 per cent protection against Delta, though this rises to at least 88 per cent after the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine and 60 per cent after the second dose of the Astra vaccine.
Pfizer and Moderna are now under scrutiny for higher than expected cases of heart inflammation in male teens and young adults after the second dose of the vaccine. The CDC's vaccine advisory committee will meet on June 18 to further evaluate the possible risk. This is crucial for India as it in talks with pharma majors for vaccine imports to scale up the vaccination drive.