After months of waiting for a COVID-19 vaccine, and desperately wanting our old lives to resume, our prayers have been answered. Several COVID vaccines are almost ready and the Government has stated that roll-out will begin soon.
In this context, the latest update issued by the government has triggered a country-wide debate.
2 vaccines have been given formal approval by the Central Drugs and Standards Committee or SDSCO- Covishield (Serum Institute of India and Oxford-AstraZeneca) and Covaxin (Bharat Biotech).
What do we know about the updates regarding these coronavirus vaccines?
The Health Ministry has stated that nearly 3 crore healthcare professionals and frontline workers will be administered with Covishied or Covaxin on an emergency basis because they are in direct line of danger. It is not yet known which of the 2 coronavirus vaccines will be administered.
But we do know that these high-priority groups will be given coronavirus vaccines free of cost. Roll-out will commence within a fortnight.
The CDSCO has given the green light to emergency approval after a recommendation came from a Subject Expert Committee who discussed the merits of the 2 vaccines in multiple sessions spanning 12 hours.
In a press release, the Health Ministry has informed the country that the results of Covidhshied on Indian test volunteers are almost the same as those of international volunteers. No other data is available as of now.
Why are some health experts opposed to such a hasty roll-out of Covishield and Covaxin?
Healthcare professionals have cited some valid reasons for their worries. Firstly, neither Covishield nor Covaxin has completed the phase 3 trials.
We at least know that the efficacy rate of the Oxford vaccine is 70.4 % (based on trials in Brazil and the UK, not India). But Bharat Biotech is yet to publish efficacy reports of Covaxin.
Similarly, the effectiveness percentage of Oxford’s Covishield as per the Indian 3rd phase trials has not yet been released.
Bharat Biotech has provided evidence of safety and immunogenicity (proof that the vaccine triggers an immune response), but has been silent on just how effective its vaccine is!
How are other experts defending Covishield and Covaxin?
Experts are pointing out the terminology of the press release. The Health Ministry has said that the approval applies to ‘ restricted use in emergency situations’. This means that this is not a universal roll-out.
Only certain segments of the population will be receiving the vaccines on an emergency basis because the threat they face is high. These people will be monitored and if there is any adverse effect, the vaccines will be withdrawn.
Experts have also said that 3rd phase trials will continue for both Covishield and Covaxin.
Other reasons why some experts feel that emergency use of Covishield and Covaxin is merited are-
- The pandemic is still ongoing, the sooner we start vaccination, the sooner the country will reach herd immunity.
- The B117 or the UK strain of COVID has arrived in India and it is very contagious.
- So far, the trial results have found both vaccines to be safe for use
Many experts have appealed to the government for explaining the rationale behind such a rushed decision and have asked for access to more data accessible. Mostly, it is beyond the common people. What we can do is observe COVID protocol and keep ourselves and our loved ones safe.