January 19, 2021 9:03:58 pm
Written by Gajendra Singh
The world’s largest immunisation drive has commenced. A lot of hopes are pinned on the government as it takes crucial steps towards protecting 130 crore people of the country. Reaching the last mile and every citizen of the country is a huge task and several policy considerations are making it even more daunting.
One pertinent question that arises now is: Are we ready to cater to the three-crore healthcare and frontline workers, the 27 crore population that includes those above 50 years of age and those with comorbidities? And are all Indians ready and confident to take the vaccine or are they hesitant?
The authorisation of the two vaccines for emergency use invited mixed reactions and has in fact faced much criticism. The scientific and medical community has raised many questions citing the fact that clinical trials are not yet over, and the move should not have been taken at the cost of safety. India will not be seen in a good light globally if it carries out the immunisation drive in a haste, perhaps in the aspiration to be included in the league of countries who already started the vaccination drive.
Clearly, demand for the vaccine is huge, and the current lot of approved vaccines may not suffice to meet it. While Serum Institute (SII), the maker of Covishield developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca and Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin alone can’t meet the demand, other candidates such US-based Pfizer and Moderna along with Russian vaccine Sputnik V have put forth a strong case as potentials candidates with proven efficacy.
Although globally many vaccines have qualified on the safety and efficacy parameter; some do not comply with the Indian requirements. For instance, the vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna require to be stored at -70 degree Celsius — a challenge during transportation. The Russian candidate, Sputnik V, adheres to requirements of the Indian landscape with two forms, first, a liquid form which would have to be stored at minus 18°C and second, a lyophilised (freeze dried) form, which can be stored at 2°C to 8°C. The lyophilised form was developed especially for transportation of the vaccine to remote places. Looking at the Indian conditions, Sputnik V could be a suitable choice. No wonder, Hyderabad-based pharmaceutical company Hetero’s move to produce over 100 million doses of Sputnik V vaccine per year, based on human adenovirus platform, is in the right direction. As per reports, SII has stockpiled over 50 million doses of Covishield and Bharat Biotech has 11 million doses of Covaxin.
Another aspect which cannot be ignored is pricing. India needs a safe and effective vaccine as soon as possible and that too, at a reasonable cost that doesn’t pinch the pockets. As per preliminary reports, Covishield will come at a price of Rs 200 per dose while Covaxin makers have gone on record to say that it would depend on the volumes. Sputnik V will be available at a cost that is less than $10 or Rs 700 per dose for national and international markets, while the Pfizer vaccine costs $37 or Rs 2,719 per dose. The price and supply of vaccines will help the government take an informed decision giving the people of India clarity on what to go for and what to miss.
Collaboration is the key. India should offer the most effective vaccines to people irrespective of the geography of origin. In these critical times, there is a need to think globally and to put public welfare on the forefront rather than depending wholly on indigenous vaccines.
Singh is a public health expert
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