Allaying vaccine fears: Govt did well to clear stance on AstraZeneca/Covishield

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March 18, 2021 6:45 AM

Given how the vaccine, licensed for production to the Serum Institute of India under the brand-name Covishield, is one of the two approved for use in India, the government needed to address people’s fears and doubts

But, most countries that have chosen the suspension route have said that the move is precautionary.But, most countries that have chosen the suspension route have said that the move is precautionary.

Reports of coagulation disorders—blood clots and low platelet levels that could cause haemorrhage—in a handful of persons after receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine have cast a shadow on the vaccine, despite no causal link having been established. This has prompted many countries, chiefly in Europe, to either partially or fully suspend the deployment of the vaccine despite the WHO and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) saying that there is no evidence linking the vaccine to the disorders. The EMA has even said that the incidents reported are not in a greater number or frequency than that reported for the general population—indeed, a review in the UK of coagulatory disorders reported post vaccination found that the numbers were much lower than that expected in the general population. But, most countries that have chosen the suspension route have said that the move is precautionary.

Given how the vaccine, licensed for production to the Serum Institute of India under the brand-name Covishield, is one of the two approved for use in India, the government needed to address people’s fears and doubts ever since news of certain countries suspending the vaccine broke. So, VK Paul, the co-chair of the government-constituted expert group on vaccination, did well to clarify the Centre’s stand in the matter—the government is reviewing reports of adverse events following immunisation (AEFI) and, given causal link hasn’t been established, the deployment of Covishield under India’s vaccination programme will “go on in full rigour”. Bear in mind, even the WHO has maintained that “vaccination campaigns must continue”, and one of its senior officials has been quoted in media reports as saying that the AstraZeneca vaccines under review are of European make, while those sourced for the Covax programme are manufactured in India (Covishield) and South Korea. Clear and effective communication is necessary to combat vaccine hesitancy, which can undermine national vaccination programmes. India’s vaccination efforts are yet to pick up steam; its 7-day rolling average of daily doses administered per 100 people—an indicator of how fast a country’s vaccination efforts are progressing—stands at 0.1, compared with the US’s 0.73 and the UK’s 0.57. If scepticism about the shots were to cloud this, it could spell disaster for India’s vaccination efforts. The government must make data and analysis on AEFI public, and communicate clearly and regularly on this to allay vaccine fears and doubts. The government had made AEFI data public last on March 11, when it claimed an AEFI incidence rate of amere 0.02% and those requiring hospitalisation at a much lower 0.00025%; this was after it stopped giving such data February 26 onwards. Such data, it can be reasonably assumed, would help the masses see vaccination and vaccine-related claims and counterclaims in the right perspective.

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