The Serum Institute of India, one of the laboratories at the forefront of vaccine development in the country, has reportedly said that it will apply for permission for emergency use of the preventive in a fortnight.
The search for a shield against the coronavirus has reached a critical phase in several parts of the world, including India. Though we do not have a firm date on a vaccine for mass use, a consensus seems to be emerging that a preventive will roll out of laboratories months before it was anticipated when the pandemic broke out. The Serum Institute of India, one of the laboratories at the forefront of vaccine development in the country, has reportedly said that it will apply for permission for emergency use of the preventive in a fortnight. Many issues, however, remain to be resolved in what may shape up to be one of the biggest logistical challenges in public health. It is heartening, therefore, that the Centre and states have embarked on this task in the right earnest. Last week, during a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, chief ministers of several states outlined their plans for vaccine deployment. Conversations have begun on ways to bolster the country’s cold-chain infrastructure. A cadre of vaccinators will now have to be mobilised to administer the first doses.
The government reportedly plans to vaccinate about 1.5 crore healthcare professionals in the first phase, and 30 crore people by September 2021. Experts reckon that the Universal Immunisation Programme’s workforce will not be adequate for the purpose. Already there are complaints that diverting health workers for the anti-COVID-19 efforts have disrupted routine inoculation programmes. Doctors, nurses and lab technicians from private healthcare facilities will have to be roped in to meet the current challenge. The National Expert Group on Vaccination Administration for COVID-19 has sought the views of industry bodies such as the FICCI and CII as well as hospital associations on the matter. This is a step in the right direction. But much more needs to be done, especially because government and private agencies will have to work in tandem in diverse realms — monitoring beneficiary databases, human resources training, bracing up cold-chain logistics and ensuring smooth supplies of syringes and medical glass vials. Coordination mechanisms between government officials at different levels and private sector experts will have to be instituted to ensure that the targeted inoculations are delivered in the shortest possible time.
The first lot of the vaccines is not likely to be 100 per cent effective — the Oxford-Astra-Zeneca vaccine developed by the Serum Institute has so far reported 70 per cent efficacy. Any case, vaccines have side effects. A transparent mechanism to report adverse reactions — and deal with misinformation and fear mongering — will be critical to the inoculation drive. There is no time to lose in mobilising and training a workforce for the purpose.
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