As the New Year began on a note of optimism with a clutch of Covid-19 vaccines appearing on the horizon, India is set for the world’s largest vaccination drive. The logistic challenges are, no doubt, daunting. India would need to augment its cold chain equipment by 5.2 million to 11 million, as per the latest projections made by officials under the universal immunisation programme. The dry run for the vaccine distribution, carried out across the country recently, brought into focus certain gaps which need to be fixed before the actual rollout starts. With the Drugs Controller General of India (DGCI) formally approving two vaccines for emergency use—Covishield developed by Oxford-AstraZeneca and manufactured by Serum Institute of India (SII), and Covaxin, the indigenous candidate developed by Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech, the stage is now set for the biggest vaccine distribution exercise in the country’s history. While India is already a global hub for the manufacture of a wide range of vaccines, the coronavirus pandemic has thrown up a never-before opportunity to demonstrate our scientific credentials in developing a vaccine. The indigenous vaccine, developed by Bharat Biotech in coordination with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), serves as a testament to the country’s R&D prowess. Though there are other candidates in the fray, the two vaccines cleared by the DCGI—Covishield and Covaxin—will have the first mover advantage and set the standards for the future.
A section of experts had raised questions over the approval given to Covaxin even as the phase-III human trials are still under way. It must be pointed out that Covaxin has been developed with traditional technology and is an inactivated vaccine that does not use mRNA (messenger Ribonucleic acid) platform, unlike Pfizer and Moderna candidates. Therefore, its safety is beyond any shadow of a doubt. With the phase-III data to be published soon, it is possible that it could work better in the case of virus mutations and could provide a better alternative. In a country where rumours and conspiracy theories against vaccines still find some takers, despite a successful record in universal immunisation programmes for decades, politicisation of Covid-19 vaccination must be avoided at any cost. While it is the basic duty of the Centre to ensure due diligence, the opposition parties, on their part, must desist from any attempts to fuel unfounded fears. The comments made by Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav, who termed it as “BJP vaccine”, and the Congress spokesperson Salman Niazi, who dubbed it as “fraud”, are quite distasteful and irresponsible. This is the time to back the scientists and experts to do what is best for the country.
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