India's immunisation drive against COVID-19 is set to begin on January 16, bringing in much needed progress in fighting the coronavirus.
However, keep in mind that it will be a long time before a significant portion of the population is protected against COVID-19. The vaccination drive in the country could potentially take more than a year, according to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
"While the vaccine will protect you and your families, it needs to be supported by following of the key preventive behaviours: use of masks, frequent handwashing with soaps and sanitisers, and maintaining physical distance of at least six feet," the health ministry said.
Watch out for side-effects
Frequently Asked Questions
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.
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.
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.
The two vaccines that are currently being rolled out in India - Covishield and Covaxin - are safe. However, they have some common side-effects, such as fever, nausea, and tenderness and/or swelling at the injection site. You can read the full list of potential side-effects here.
The health ministry said recipients of vaccines will be observed at the site for 30 minutes.
QR code-based digital certificates will be sent on the CoWin app to those who have taken both doses of the vaccine.
What do we know about immunity and transmission?
Vaccines that are being rolled out in several countries are typically administered in two doses. In India, both Covishield and Covaxin will be administered in two doses that are four weeks apart, indicating that it will take some time for those who have taken the shots to develop immunity.
"It takes time for your body to build protection after any vaccination. COVID-19 vaccines that require 2 shots may not protect you until a week or two after your second shot," the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on it website.
Further, asymptomatic transmission of the coronavirus cannot be ruled out. So even after taking a jab, there is a possibility of a person unknowingly passing on the virus.
"There is no guarantee that a vaccinated person will not transmit the virus to another person. There are many asymptomatic people, who have no symptoms, but the virus is present in their nasal passage. When they breathe, cough or sneeze, they can still transmit the virus to others," Dr Giridhara Babu, an epidemiologist told The New Indian Express.
What about normal life?
The World Health Organization (WHO) chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan is of the view that herd immunity is unlikely in 2021, AFP reported.
So for a vaccinated person, life will not change much, since many people across the world will still be at risk of coronavirus infection. At a household, workplace, university, restaurant or any public space, there will be many individuals who have not developed natural immunity and not been vaccinated as well.
Even after taking the vaccine, the standard precautions will apply, such as wearing masks, social distancing, washing hands and usage of hand sanitisers.
"A lot of people are thinking that once they get vaccinated, they're not going to have to wear masks anymore," Michal Tal, an immunologist at Stanford University told The New York Times.
"It's really going to be critical for them to know if they have to keep wearing masks, because they could still be contagious," he said.Click here for Moneycontrol’s full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic