Finally the glorious day here. India has not one, but two, covid-19 vaccines ready for deployment. The vaccination drive, possibly the largest in the world, comes with the promise of a near-normal life, and perhaps even eradication of the novel coronavirus infection. But as promising as the covid-19 vaccine is, it also poses a question that perhaps every Indian is grappling with: should we get the covid-19 immediately (basis our eligibility) or should we wait, watch, and then decide.
In India, we have two variants: Covishield, developed by Oxford-AstraZeneca and manufactured locally by the Serum Institute of India (SII); and Covaxin, created by Bharat Biotech.
Despite both these vaccines, and India’s vaccination drive being in the news, a survey conducted by LocalCircles, a community social media platform, suggests that almost 69% of people are hesitant to take the shot.
We also can’t ignore the vaccine bashing that’s being done both online and offline, which suggests these shots may not be as efficient given that they are created in a hurry.
That said, not everybody is going to get a chance at immunization immediately. Covid-19 vaccines are going to be launched in phases. In phase 1, only healthcare workers will receive the jab. Phase 2 will focus on our jawans, after which it will be the Indian elderly who will move forward for the immunization. And it’s vaccination for this lot which is also becoming the cause of concern given their already frail health conditions of senior citizens.
Another concern with the covid-19 vaccination drive in India comes from a report in the British journal BMJ. A study suggests that people who belong to ethnic minorities are ‘extremely vulnerable’ when it comes to taking covid-19 vaccine. It also says that it can reduce their life expectancy. Similar claims are also made by the researchers in America.
India’s vaccination drive which begins on January 16th is reeling under the weight of these questions and concerns. So to clear the air, we spoke to Dr Mahesh Lakhe, a consultant internal medicine and infectious disease specialist at Columbia Asia Hospital Pune. And here’s what he has to say about the covid-19 shot.
According to Dr Lakhe, there are various reasons why people are biased against the covid-19 vaccine. As the vaccine was rolled out in such a short period of time, it is raising eyebrows when it comes to efficiency. However, in Dr Lakhe’s opinion it is completely safe to get vaccinated.
“It’s a new disease, with no treatment, and let’s not forget the mortality rate. There is no denying that emergency approvals are given to launch this vaccine but we have to see that both the vaccines that are launched in India have shown 70 to 80% efficacy which is a big number of people that we can save. And we should not forget that not every medicine is fool-proof. We should be glad that we have found something concrete and it will lay a solid foundation in improving what we have,” says Dr Lakhe.
When we asked the doctor if it is safe to get vaccinated right away, he said: “The vaccine is not recommended for kids who are less than 15 years and people with special problems, like if they have undergone a transplant, if they are on immune suppression medication, if they are HIV positive, and those who are on high dose steroids. Other than that everyone is eligible.”
“I have been reading a lot of media reports that are talking about the side-effects of the covid-19 vaccine,” says Dr Lakhe. “But the authorities are only rolling the best out of the lot. Both the vaccines by Bharat Biotech and SII have shown very minor side-effects including mild fever, pain, and some common allergic reactions that can be manageable easily. Having said that, if you see a major side-effect, like neurological changes, after getting the first shot—which to be honest is rare—then you can consult with your doctor about a second dose,” he stated.
He added that, “Vaccines that have side-effects cannot be embargoed. Elderly should also go for the vaccine. They are targeted in the initial days because they are the most vulnerable. And as I’ve said side-effects are manageable.”
Even if you get the vaccination, you can still transmit the virus. Now the question is: why get vaccinated anyway? Well, that’s because the transmission after you get inoculated is for a really short period of time.
“How short this period is going to be is something on which scientists are still researching. In my opinion, instead of injections, the nasal vaccine might have reduced the transmission period drastically,” he says.
When we asked Dr Lakhe about the scientific research suggesting ethnic minorities may face greater side effects, he said: “I don’t think that’s going to be a problem in India. Our vaccines are tested on various ethnic groups in India and that’s why there is nothing to worry.”
He also suggested that because this pandemic is THE big thing, whatever information pops-up makes the headlines. And due to all the speculation, our panic mode gets switched on.
“I have also heard people saying there is a lack of data. In fact, it is the other way round. Everyday journals are finding something or the other about this virus and thanks to them now we know a lot about this novel coronavirus. For a virus which is new and untreatable, I think getting a vaccine this soon is nothing but a scientific miracle,” concluded Dr Lakhe.
Since India is a densely-populated country, it will take around a year or two for every person to be inoculated. And the bottom line is: when in doubt talk to your family physician and count on his/her words.