As India scrambles to begin phase 3 of COVID-19 vaccination, several challenges plague the inoculation drive

By: |
May 12, 2021 1:00 PM

Despite so many vaccines being developed across the globe, there is still a shortage of jabs in the world.

The Health Department of Delhi government, on June 3, has already issued similar directions in this regard to all government COVID Vaccination Centres.

Vaccination drive in India: Soon after the pandemic struck the world last year, scientists globally began working on vaccinations to prevent the COVID-19 infections. Worldwide, as many as 250 vaccine candidates were being developed, of which at least 10 have received emergency approval in different countries. In fact, most of these vaccines make use of two different technologies that had not been used in the vaccines for humans before, according to expert Dr Virander Singh Chauhan. In an article published in IE, Dr Chauhan said that mRNA vaccines by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, and AstraZeneca-Oxford and Sputnik V’s viral vector medium are new technologies.

Apart from this, Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin, Johnson and Johnson’s vaccine and China’s Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines use the common technology of inactivated viruses. He added that all of these vaccines are safe as well as effective against protecting individuals from severe infections and deaths. However, they do not necessarily prevent infections.

Also read | Vaccines are sensitive products, maintaining robust cold-chain system utmost important: Sanjay Jain, Elanpro

Another 50 vaccines are in the pipeline, and several of them are in the last stages, he added.

However, despite so many vaccines being developed across the globe, there is still a shortage of jabs in the world. There are several factors for that, according to Dr Chauhan, one of them being that about 700 crore people need to be inoculated, with each needing about two jabs. This means that the demand is very high for vaccines. Moreover, a few rich nations have ordered or stocked about 80% of the available vaccines, even as they collectively represent only about 20% of the global population. This divide is even more gaping considering that even WHO’s COVAX initiative among others to provide poor nations with vaccines has only led to about 1% of the African population receiving jabs.

Apart from that, there have been reports recently of Pfizer’s vaccine being approved for vaccination of people aged between 12 and 16 years, with Moderna and Johnson and Johnson vaccines also being close to getting approvals. This indicates that the west world has populated its adult population significantly, and is now planning to move on towards the inoculation of children and maybe even babies. This would lead to an even harder access to these vaccine’s doses in the free market.

Meanwhile, the most affordable vaccine option yet – the AstraZeneca vaccine – has not been approved by the US FDA. Brazil has denied approval to Russia’s Sputnik V, while west-based countries have not yet approved vaccines developed in China. Critical examination of all vaccines is needed so that all safe and effective vaccines can be approved and added to the pool of vaccines that can be used for inoculation drives worldwide.

Meanwhile, India is facing an aggressive second wave of the virus, he said, adding that there are concerns that the virus might mutate and become even more dangerous, ultimately becoming a global issue if not controlled soon. Apart from that, the “inherently fragile healthcare system” of the country is now facing an unprecedented amount of pressure, and the country is facing an acute lack of medical oxygen. Moreover, while India has moved on to the third phase of its drive, now aiming to vaccinate its entire adult population, this ambitious drive is not being able to be supported by the supply chain infrastructure present in the country.

In absolute terms, India has administered the third highest number of doses in the world, but it has only been able to provide the first dose to about 13% of its population, while only about 2% of the population has been fully vaccinated. This is in sharp contrast to many other countries where more than half the adult population has been inoculated.

This is true even as India is being seen as the hub of vaccine manufacturing, especially after it provided numerous doses to different countries earlier this year. However, manufacturing of vaccines is a time-consuming process, Dr Chauhan said. The production of vaccines depend on a seamless supply of raw materials, which are mostly being imported from other countries at the moment. Moreover, the entire process cannot be hastened and therefore, ramping up production by manufacturers would take at least two to three months even with the availability of funds, which means that this crunch is expected to sustain for the coming months, if vaccines are not imported in large numbers. This option, he said, needs to be examined in a quick manner, but also carefully.

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