- Dr VK Paul called to take vaccine shot and break the chain of transmission
- Fight infodemic against the COVID-19 vaccines with data: Dr Randeep Guleria
- SARS-Cov-2 is a clever virus; can cause asymptomatic disease: Dr Guleria
New Delhi: India’s COVID-19 vaccination drive which according to the government is the world’s largest vaccination programme is gaining momentum with over 16 lakh (16,15,504) people vaccinated till January 25, 8 am. From an average of 30-40 health workers taking the vaccine jab at each vaccine site in the initial days of the drive to now over 50 people turning up, the numbers are gradually picking up. One of the reasons behind the increase in numbers is the modifications made in the Co-WIN database that allows walk-in vaccinations. Now, healthcare workers who are not slotted for a certain date can also come and get vaccinated. But there is still vaccine hesitancy even among health workers. NDTV spoke to Dr VK Paul, Member (Health), NITI Aayog and Dr Randeep Guleria, Director, AIIMS who were among the first few people to take the vaccine jab right after the launch on January 16. The duo explained the reason behind the vaccine hesitancy, why getting vaccinated is important and appealed to health workers to take the vaccine shot.
Explaining vaccine hesitancy, Dr Guleria said,
There will always be a slow start. This is not something new. As a matter of fact, if you look at the history of vaccination, right from when cowpox vaccine was given for smallpox, there has always been vaccine hesitancy in the first few days or weeks because people always want someone else to try and see how it works. Why should I be the first one because it may have some serious side effects? Dr Guleria added that today social media is much more active than it has been before, this has magnified out of proportion and that has created a problem.
While talking to NDTV, Dr Paul noted that India is fortunate to have the option of having a massive vaccination programme which according to him will escalate exponentially in the days to come. Dr Paul informed that India is using two ‘Made in India’ vaccines – Oxford-AstraZeneca’s Covishield and Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin – which are affordable and available for use. Giving out the reason why every health worker should take the vaccine shot, Dr Paul said,
This vaccine is meant to protect an individual and also to make sure that the individual is not in future in the path of transmission of infection. I want to emphasis that when you take the vaccine under the current circumstances, you are fulfilling two purposes. Firstly, you are protecting yourself, your immediate family and you are more prepared and confident to perform your duties that we have sworn in for. Secondly, when I get vaccinated, the virus cannot spread through me. I am suppressing the chain of transmission and that is a societal cause.
Dr Paul appealed to the healthcare fraternity at large to embrace the vaccine with gratitude to the efforts of people who have made vaccines available and requested to take the vaccine shot in order to become fully functional and suppress the chain of transmission. He said,
We not only have COVID responsibilities but also non-COVID responsibilities which have been put on a back burner in a significant way so let’s going.
Further talking about how the vaccine hesitancy can be overcome, Dr Guleria said we have to fight the infodemic against the vaccines with data. There is robust data both from what has been published in the Lancet on Covaxin and also from whatever has been looked at by the regulators. I think it is important not only to look at the data but also to put it forward and to make people understand why it is important for them to be vaccinated, he said.
It is important for us to not only protect ourselves but also people whom we look after so for healthcare workers it is also to protect your patients. It is a moral responsibility. We know that this virus can have mild symptoms and you may actually transmit it to some patient of yours who may be COVID negative and may become COVID positive because of you not being careful, alarmed Dr Guleria.
AIIMS Director gave the example of the influenza vaccine, which is mandatory for doctors working in hospitals, especially in a critical care centre or in a transplant unit. Dr Guleria also said that India has this window of opportunity right now which many countries don’t have. Explaining the same, he said,
Our cases are down, case fatality is down and if we are able to quickly vaccinate people, we will be able to increase the degree of people who have immunity and thereby prevent any spike which may happen.
Giving the example of Brazil where the number of cases was on a rise then came down, but the country is witnessing a huge spike, again, Dr Guleria said,
The theory that has been put forward is that either there is now a very highly infectious strain or those people who had got infected six to seven months ago have low immunity now and are getting reinfected. This is something we have to be careful about. We had a spike somewhere in July-August. We don’t want that some of these individuals whose immunity has come down should have a chance of getting the infection again. So, we have to be able to push forward a large number of people vaccinated – both the health workers and subsequently frontline and high-risk group.
Dr Guleria believes that if India misses this unique opportunity then we might have a situation like the U.K., Europe, Brazil, South Africa and the U.S. where cases are on a rise. He said,
We will actually have lost this opportunity and there would be no point regretting the fact that we were not really able to roll out the vaccine to a large number of people when we could and thereby save lives, bring our economy back on track and really come out of this pandemic. That is why it is important for us to take the data forward but also combine it with why it is important to get vaccinated.
Dr Guleria who has been at the frontlines since the start of the Coronavirus pandemic in the country said that a lot of people say they have faith in the COVID-19 vaccine but want other people to take it first, observe the outcomes for two to three months and then decide on taking it.
My appeal is that we may not have two to three months. We may have a situation where things may become bad in February and March. I personally feel that we should make people understand that this window of opportunity should not be lost, we should all come forward and use the doses that we have so that everyone can be vaccinated and we have a good number of people who have some degree of immunity against this virus. This is a clever virus. It can cause asymptomatic disease and spread among people without even them knowing about it. Let’s respect the virus and therefore work aggressively to take control of it, he said.
While signing off, Dr Guleria reiterated to take the vaccine in order to prevent and break the chain of transmission, to decrease our mortality and avoid another peak. He said,
We must take whatever we have and use that opportunity to be ahead of the curve rather than wait for the virus to do things and then start having a knee jerk reaction to suddenly start increasing our vaccination drive.
NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. 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 highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. 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 become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene.