Updated: June 4, 2021 10:52:07 am
DR Virander Singh Chauhan, an Arturo Falaschi Emeritus scientist and founder of ETI (Empower, Transform, Inspire), published a scientific paper as a segment in the recent report ‘The road ahead for smart Covid-19 testing and tracing in India’. ETI has also partnered with Diwas, an organisation working to support vulnerable women to highlight the issue of pregnancy, Covid-19 and vaccinations in India. Dr Chauhan talks to The Indian Express about issues pertaining to availability of vaccine, suitability of India-made vaccines for pregnant women and how worried should we be about mutations in the virus. Excerpts from an interview:
India is the largest vaccine producer globally, but, at present, the country is facing a severe shortage of Covid vaccines. How would you explain this gap?
It is true that India produces 50 to 60 per cent of all vaccines given to people, especially in low-and middle-income countries, globally. As soon as Covid-19 was first detected in January 2020, the vaccine producing companies started work and began their Phase-I trials. The current shortage in India is due to massive internal demand. It may remain so for the next couple of months. We were slow to start work on vaccines, but that said India also has tremendous ability to make vaccines for itself and the world, and will reach the goal of manufacturing two billion shots by the end of the year.
Although Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have been tested safe for pregnant women, these vaccines are not yet available in India. Can those available here, namely Covishield and Covaxin, be administered to pregnant women?
All trials of vaccines were done on healthy male and females in the age group of 18 to 45 years, before they were rolled out globally a few months ago. Pregnant women were naturally not part of Phase-III trials, and rightly so, because the response of the body is unpredictable. However, in the US, more than one million pregnant women got vaccinated, without a trial, and there were no ill effects recorded with either Pfizer or Moderna. On the other hand, in the UK, many pregnant women have taken AstraZeneca, which has still not been rolled out in the US. The Joint Commission on Vaccination and Immunisation released a recent report stating that Moderna and Pfizer are absolutely harmless for pregnant women. Pregnant women must be offered vaccination just as the rest of the population. Since there’s more data on Moderna and Pfizer vaccines on pregnant women, that does not mean others are harmful. It is only lack of data that prevents us from making confident claims.
Do the new mutations of the virus affect immunity provided by available vaccines?
New mutations may compromise the ability of antibodies to neutralise it, but since we produce such a large number of antibodies after vaccination, this, so far, has not been a major concern. New information suggests that immunity developed through these vaccines may last even longer than initially thought. Vaccines are effective and will remain so for a while in terms of what they are supposed to do — save people from severe disease and death.
Will the threat of Covid-19 exist in a post-vaccination world? If yes, how do we prepare for the days to come?
A. It’s a new virus and we are learning about it on a daily basis. Vaccination reduces chances of virus transmission. We do not know how long this virus will remain as it is. Normally, viruses mutate into more harmful forms, as has happened with Covid-19, as well as not so harmful forms, such as H1N1 that have become background viruses. So, general consensus in science is that the virus may lose its ability to cause lethal symptoms, although nobody knows how much time it will take. Mass vaccinations will definitely help bring down number of people that the virus kills.
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