Updated: January 16, 2021 9:18:47 am
A new chapter in the country’s battle against the novel coronavirus will open today when Prime Minister Narendra Modi launches the anti-COVID vaccination drive across more than 3,000 sites. If things go according to plan, by July-end, 30 crore people will have received shots against the contagion that has taken more than 1.5 lakh lives in the country. For a pandemic weary population, for an economy desperate for green shoots of revival and for a healthcare system stretched to its limits, this drive offers hope. The speed at which the vaccines were developed and rolled out is a remarkable achievement for the country’s scientific, regulatory and administrative establishment. More so when it comes as the COVID curve bends reassuringly. It is also appropriate that the first ones in the vaccine line are the brave women and men — doctors, health workers, paramedics — who fought the pandemic at the frontlines and many of them watched their colleagues die. January 16, therefore, is also a day for the nation to express its gratitude.
At the beginning of the pandemic early last year, the most optimistic projections were of a vaccine by the middle of 2021. The rolling out of the preventives in record time was facilitated by compressed schedules and regulatory procedures tailored for an emergency. Though the safety of the vaccines seems assured, more will be known about their efficacy in the time to come. Even as the first vials are being rolled out, scientists are trying to understand how long do these confer immunity. Work is on in laboratories to ascertain the efficacy of the shots in preventing infection amongst the elderly and studies are being conducted about the percentage of the population that needs to be inoculated for developing herd immunity. The Bharat Biotech vaccine will be used in clinical trial mode so extra care and caution will be needed. At the same time, the fact that more vaccines are up for regulatory approval means that a stronger shield against the virus is not far away.
Vaccines are work in progress — the first shots mark the beginning of the end of the scourge but the recovery is likely to be long-drawn. The COVID curve has a nasty trend of turning again, juries are out on the new strains and supplies are still way below the numbers needed for herd immunity. Vaccinators will educate the recipients about the working of the vaccines and their possible side-effects. A monitoring system is in place to report adverse effects. These should be the first steps in building public trust in the vaccines. There are likely to be more challenges on this front as public discourse on the inoculation drive takes off. The coming months could pose public communication challenges for the government and health authorities — as much they will place demands on the logistical and scientific fronts. All involved must follow the science — staying masked and socially distanced.
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