New Delhi: In a big boost to India’s fight against coronavirus, an expert panel of the central drug authority cleared Covaxin and Covishield for ‘full use’, a year after the vaccines were given emergency approval, which means that COVID-19 shots could be available at your nearby pharmacies & hospitals soon. This decision also means that boosters could be available for purchase on doctor’s prescription; hospitals and clinics to be empowered to prescribe booster doses. We discuss with top doctors and scientists to know what benefit this decision will have on India’s ongoing fight against COVID-19 and can we expect over-the-counter COVID vaccines to be available soon. Here’s what they have to say:
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Talking about how crucial this step is for India, Dr Ashok Seth, Chairman, Fortis & Escort Heart Institute, said,
This is extremely important step. We are now clearly towards the end of primary vaccination programme with our 72 per cent adult population vaccinated and nearly 160 crore vaccination doses given. So, with this sequence, we definitely know that vaccines are safe and we have enough experience to understand that the vaccines are effective. The second most important aspect that we know is that booster doses are important and will help us protect from this wave as well as future waves. And finally, now with enough vaccine doses being available to us, the normal sequence of event should be that booster should be more easily available to the larger population who have not yet been boosted. So, the experts committee have given us their recommendation and this announcement is part of that.
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Explaining what this move means for a common man, Dr Sudarshan Bilal, Chairman, Manipal Hospitals & Member of Karnataka COVID Task Force said,
I believe, this precautionary vaccination will be an annual ritual for now. It might get add on to our immunisation card like many other vaccines we take like Polio vaccine, MMR (vaccine against measles, mumps, and rubella), flu vaccines to name a few. The theory of vaccines has changed since it was first brought in picture last year – from disease prevention to disease mobilisation. We now know that being vaccinated doesn’t necessarily prevent you from developing the disease but certainly mitigates the severity of the disease and protects you from mortality and ICU stays. And that is an important lesson we have learned over the years.
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Talking about the vaccine doses and if there is a choice to mix and match the vaccine for the precautionary dose, Dr Manish Gupta, Medical Director, L H Hiranandani Hospitals, Mumbai said,
The scientific recommendations by the expert committee clearly indicates that for now mix and matching of doses is not advisable. This means, someone who has taken Covaxin as the first and second dose, can’t be given Covishield as a precautionary dose and vice a versa. The problem, I foresee with the liberalisation of the two vaccines is that how do we make sure mix-n-matching is not happening with the course of vaccines. We will need to very carefully plan the logistics for the same and its rollout.
On the other hand, speaking about the extreme instances and will this decision bring along more of such cases like we have seen in Bihar for example, where we saw pictures and footage of people being climbed to trees so that they can avoid getting vaccination and also where one man has claimed that he has been vaccinated 10 to 12 times, Dr Ashok Seth added,
I think these crazy events will be very rare, don’t think many people will do so. With the 72 per cent of adult population double vaccinated, usually the last leg is the most difficult one. In India, we don’t have anti-vaccine activists, like we see in the West. Here the problem is more because of misinformation and social issues. We will still have to face such issues, the only way is to spread more and more correct information so that public is fully informed.
Talking about the concerns and challenges that comes along with such a decision, Dr Sudarshan Bilal added,
Our initial concern was regarding the vaccine hesitancy, the availability of vaccines across India and its rollout. But we had come out of all such concerns very well. I think now, our primary goal should be to vaccinate people with their second dose as soon as possible and then ensure the precautionary dose is given to those eligible.
A Look At India’s COVID-19 Situation
According to the data by Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, India added nearly 3.50 lakh new Covid cases as of January 21, a nine percent jump from yesterday’s 3.17 lakh cases which was also the highest in eight months. As per the data, with a tally of 3.85 crore cases, India is the second worst-hit country after the US.
The active cases now comprise 5.23 per cent of the total infections, while the national COVID-19 recovery rate has decreased to 93.50 per cent. The overall count of the highly infectious Omicron variant has reached 9,692 as of January 21 with 29 states reporting cases of the new strain.
NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ population, indigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, that is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.