LAYING OUT the sequence of distribution of Covid vaccines that are expected to be available in India, Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan said Sunday that the first priority will be for those facing occupational hazards from the virus and exposure risk, indicating that healthcare professionals at the frontline would be among the early recipients.
The Minister said that the much-awaited Feluda paper strip test is likely to roll out “within the next few weeks”. The test, which uses gene editing technology to detect the virus in less than 30 minutes, has been developed by the New Delhi-based CSIR-Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (IGIB).
Harsh Vardhan also warned against large congregations for the festivals that are coming up. “No religion or God says that you have to celebrate in an ostentatious way, that you have to visit pandals and temples and mosques to pray… there is no need to congregate in large numbers to prove your faith or your religion. If we do this, we may be heading for big trouble,” he said.
Responding to a question during his weekly social media interaction on whether the government will ignore the elderly and prioritise the young and working-class population for vaccination to revive the economy, the Minister said: “Prioritisation of groups to be vaccinated shall be based on two key considerations: first, is occupational hazard and risk of exposure to the infection; second, is the risk of developing severe disease and increased mortality.”
At the moment though, he stressed, it is anticipated that supplies of Covid vaccines would be available in only limited quantities in the beginning.
“…it is very important to plan the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine… to begin with, it is anticipated that the supplies of Covid-19 vaccines would be available in limited quantities. Therefore, in a huge country like India, it is critical to prioritise vaccine delivery based upon various factors such as the risk of exposure, co-morbidity among various population groups, the mortality rate among Covid-19 cases, and several other reasons, rather than randomly vaccinating everyone. If these nuances are not addressed appropriately, then people who may actually need the vaccine may eventually not get it,” he said.
Seeking to counter rumours and speculation on social media, the Health Minister underlined that no official announcement has been made so far regarding the date of a vaccine rollout.
“…vaccine development is a resource-intensive and time-consuming process…every phase has to be analysed scientifically to ensure that vaccine development is on the right track. This process ensures that the vaccine is not only effective but also safe,” he said.
According to Harsh Vardhan, multiple manufacturers are likely to be drafted to fulfill India’s requirement. “…considering the large population size of India, one vaccine or vaccine manufacturer will not be able to fulfill the requirements of vaccinating the whole country. Therefore, we are open to assessing the feasibility of introducing several Covid-19 vaccines in the country as per their availability for the Indian population,” he said.
The Minister said that India is looking at the availability of different types of vaccines, of which some may be suitable for a particular age group while others may not. “Cold chain and other logistics need to be planned appropriately to ensure no glitches occur in vaccine delivery even to the last mile. Community sensitisation activities to understand the reason for vaccine hesitancy and address them appropriately also need to be looked into,” he said.
He said that emergency use authorisation of Covid vaccines in India is also being looked at. “Adequate safety and efficacy data are required for emergency use authorisation vaccine approval for ensuring patient safety. Further course of action will depend on the data generated,” he said.
On the paper strip test, Harsh Vardhan said: “While I cannot put an exact date on the availability, we should expect this test within the next few weeks.” So far, the test has shown 96 per cent sensitivity during clinical trials, almost close to the accuracy levels of the RT-PCR test, which is the gold standard for Covid. It displays results in a way that is similar to pregnancy strip tests, changing colour if the virus is detected.
Asking people to celebrate festivals at their homes, he said: “…Our goal is to finish this virus and save humanity. This is our religion. The religion of the whole world.”
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