- Harsh Vardhan urged scientists to ensure affordability of COVID-19 vaccines
- Need plan to ensure a 100 percent coverage for COVID-19 vaccine: Expert
- India can ensure universal immunisation if there’s a political will: Expert
New Delhi: COVID-19 has claimed over 2.5 lakh lives across the globe. There are more than 100 projects underway to find a vaccine to help put an end to the war of humanity against the pandemic. Out of these 100 projects, six are being conducted by Indian pharmaceutical firms. Minister for Health and Family Welfare, Dr. Harsh Vardhan has urged scientists to keep in mind the affordability factor of various drugs, vaccines and medical equipment amidst the country’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, a recent statement from the Ministry said.
An expert from Translational Health Science and Technology Institute, an autonomous institute of the Department of Biotechnology under the Ministry of Science and Technology, also asserts that the affordability of the COVID-19 drug is of utmost importance, since the immunisation coverage in India has always faced challenges.
Approximately, 9 million routine immunisation sessions are held in India each year, that targets 26 million children and 30 million pregnant women. The sessions are served through a massive 27,000 cold chain stores and yet immunisation coverage in India among children is about 62 per cent, as per the latest available National Family and Health Survey (NFHS 4). Even though the report states data from the year 2015-16, having worked on ground, I know these figures have improved however don’t believe they have changed drastically in the last five years. There is still a long way to go for full immunisation coverage in the country, the expert said.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) and Observer Research Foundation (ORF), one of the ‘obvious’ reasons why India doesn’t have universal immunisation is poor infrastructure. But stresses on two major challenges to India’s road to universal coverage:
Awareness: A lot of people in India lack general information regarding health benefits or hazards of immunisation program.
Taboos and Myths: There are endless myths associated with vaccination in India. A lot of people believe that vaccination could lead to the early death of a person.
The medical expert says that a vaccine to fight COVID-19 is ‘absolutely the need of the hour’, she adds,
My recommendation to the government is that while we are still in the development phase of the vaccine, and it seems like we will take sometime ON that front, we need to figure out a plan to ensure a 100 percent coverage for the COVID-19 vaccine. This should be the main priority right now considering the severity of the disease.
She further says that when a COVID-19 vaccine is available, the first priority should be to vaccinate those vulnerable to coronavirus the most. This includes senior citizens, people with heart and respiratory illness as well as diabetes, among others. She adds,
Since the coronavirus vaccines are for large-scale public health use, they should first and foremost meet the quality requirements and have a significant impact against the actual disease in all target populations. And as the Health Minister suggests, the most important factor will be to price is appropriately for different markets.
Dr. Manju Mehta, a paediatrician working in the field for over 3 decades, told NDTV that India can achieve universal immunisation if there’s a political will. She asserts that ‘anything and everything is achievable with some efforts and correct information.’ Dr. Mehta, says,
Having worked on ground and with children and meeting their parents for over 30 years, I think in improving the status of immunisation in India, we need to ensure the implementation of strong health communication policies and practices at ground level. Meaning roping in the people working directly with the target group, for example Anganwadi and ASHA workers. Educated groups are well aware of the importance of a coronavirus vaccine, but it is the audience that is reached by these workers is who we need to communicate with. We need Asha Workers and Anganwadi workers to gear up for achieving full coronavirus immunisation as well.
She further says that now is the right time to start a plan and send them circulars on how they can start creating awareness at present. This would play a major role in implementing a successful immunisation drive, as soon as a COVID-19 vaccine is ready.
Dr. Mehta says that once the above mentioned challenges are overcome, other aspects such as administrative involvement, demand and supply of the vaccine, and ultimately the finances, need to be resolved in due course. But this is a secondary conversation until we have a vaccine to discuss these aspects for, she said.
However, these challenges are solvable and should not be a hindrance to introduction of the COVID-19 vaccine, she signed off.
About The Immunisation Programme In India
The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare launched Immunisation Programme titled ‘Expanded Programme of Immunisation’ in 1978 which was later renamed in 1985 to ‘Universal Immunisation Programme’ (UIP). According to UNICEF, UIP is one of largest health programmes in the world with 26 million infants and 29 million pregnant women as beneficiaries.
In India, the efforts are being made to expand the scope of Immunisation programme. The UIP includes vaccines for 12 life-threatening diseases. This includes Diphtheria, Pertussis, Tetanus, Polio, Measles, Rubella, severe form of Childhood Tuberculosis, Hepatitis B and Meningitis, Pneumonia caused by Hemophilus Influenza type B, Rotavirus diarrhoea, Pneumococcal Pneumonia and Japanese Encephalitis.
Through immunisation, India has eradicated deadly diseases like Polio and measles and is committed to eliminating Rubella.