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Indian companies prepare to buy vaccines for employees

Indian factories are recovering from one of the world's strictest lockdown last year, which led to large-scale job losses and migration of workers back to their villages.

January 18, 2021 / 06:41 PM IST
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Several Indian companies are making plans to buy COVID-19 vaccines for their employees, just days after the country's government began one of the world's largest vaccination drives with healthcare and other frontline workers.

Steel producer Jindal Steel and Power Ltd, autos-to technology conglomerate Mahindra Group and consumer goods giant ITC Ltd have begun initial checks on hopes that vaccines will be available for purchase after the government covers priority segments.

"ITC would certainly like to extend the vaccination to employees... We have approached vaccine manufactures and are in exploratory talks," Amitav Mukherji, head of corporate human resources, said.

India is currently using Britain's Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine, which is being produced in India by the Serum Institute, and a government-backed alternative developed by India's Bharat Biotech.

Tata Steel said it would get employees inoculated as soon as shots are available commercially.


COVID-19 Vaccine

Frequently Asked Questions

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How does a vaccine work?

A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

How many types of vaccines are there?

There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.

What does it take to develop a vaccine of this kind?

Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.

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Indian factories are recovering from one of the world's strictest lockdown last year, which led to large-scale job losses and migration of workers back to their villages.

"We are reaching out to vaccine manufacturers for bulk supply of doses and will try to get these doses after completion of all frontline Covid warriors' vaccination," Pankaj Lochan, chief human resource officer, JSPL, said.

The company did not give more details on either the number of doses it plans to buy or with whom it was in talks with.

The world's second-most populous country, India trails only the United States in numbers of COVID-19 infections.

Billionaire Anand Mahindra-led Mahindra Group said it was also interested in buying vaccines for employees "in accordance with the priorities and sequence to be specified by the government".

Global consumer goods giant Unilever last week said it was strongly encouraging employees to get vaccinated as soon as possible and floated the idea that it could buy shots to share with people in poorer countries.

As governments rush to inoculate the most vulnerable, however, most corporations globally have so far been quiet on whether they would seek to secure early supplies for employees.

Follow our full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic here.

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