Coronavirus vaccination drive: Immunisation drive needs to be carried out in prioritised way, experts tell PM Modi

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June 11, 2021 1:36 PM

COVID-19: Comparing vaccination to a strong and powerful weapon, the experts, including those from AIIMS, said that strong weapons should neither be withheld nor should they be used indiscriminately.

The experts have also called for a continuation of India’s goodwill gesture of supplying vaccines to other nations who are in need of it.

Coronavirus vaccination drive in India: As India has been ramping up its coronavirus vaccination drive, a group of experts who are included in the national COVID-19 task force have sent a report to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, advising the Centre to modify its vaccination strategy. In a joint statement released by the Indian Public Health Association (IPHA) and the Indian Association of Preventive and Social Medicine (IAPSM), the experts said that the prevalent conditions in the country demanded that the inoculation is done in a prioritised manner based on logistics and data, instead of opening it up to people of all ages at this stage. The statement added that opening up of the vaccination drive for all adults would spread the resources – humans and others – too thin for them to be able to tackle the pandemic effectively.

Comparing vaccination to a strong and powerful weapon, the experts, including those from AIIMS, said that strong weapons should neither be withheld nor should they be used indiscriminately. They suggested that the Centre should employ COVID-19 vaccines in a manner that would be strategic as well as cost effective. Further adding that for the lack of evidence, vaccinating young adults and children would be cost-ineffective, they said that if the vaccination is carried out in an unplanned manner, it could promote mutant strains of SARS-CoV-2.

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Another key point that the experts mentioned was low prioritising of those individuals who have already recovered from COVID-19 infection, which would help in also conserving a significant amount of resources. They said that this group could be vaccinated once there was evidence that the vaccine benefitted those who have recovered from natural infection. The suggestion comes even as the Centre had already last month issued guidelines stating that individuals recovering from COVID-19 need to wait three months after recovery to get their vaccination dose administered, regardless of whether it is the first or the second dose. While there is no information regarding the Centre’s response to these suggestions, this could indicate a further increase in the duration for which a recovered individual needs to wait before being able to get a vaccine dose administered.

The experts also pointed out that since the country is amid a second wave of the pandemic, the priority needs to be reducing the number of deaths being caused by the virus, and since this is high among people who are old, have comorbidities or are obese, the focus should be on inoculating these groups first.

Mutant strains can also be triggered by mass, incomplete and indiscriminate vaccination, they said, adding that it seemed unlikely that mass inoculation of all the adults would be able to catch up with the speed with which the virus has been spreading among the young people in several parts of the country.

The experts have also called for a continuation of India’s goodwill gesture of supplying vaccines to other nations who are in need of it and are unable to procure it from the global vaccine market due to a stark demand-supply mismatch.

Furthermore, supply of vaccines to rural areas needs to be prioritised, the statement said, and the microplanning of this vaccination drive should be based on strategies used for previous immunisation drives that India has conducted in the past, including that for polio.

Moreover, the suggestions also include reconsidering the liberalised policy on vaccination, urging the Centre to return to a centralised procurement process. Notably, this is in line with the announcement made by PM Modi earlier this week, where he announced that the country was returning to a centralised procurement process of vaccines for the third phase of the vaccination drive as well, after several states said that they were unable to procure vaccines at their own level.

At present, India is following a guideline as per which a person needs to get a second dose of Covishield only three months after getting the first dose. However, the experts have suggested that there should be an evidence-based flexibility in schedule of vaccination, in case of areas or population groups where certain variants might be dominating, like reducing the gap between the two doses of Covishield in areas where the Delta variant – which was first identified in India – is causing a surge.

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