With an aim to vaccinate 25 crore people by July 2021, the process is likely to begin much earlier.
Union Health Minister Dr. Harsh Vardhan said on October 4 that 20-25 crore Indians would be vaccinated against COVID-19 by July 2021. However, the question remains: is this enough?
Here is what the union health minister said when asked if individuals would receive a single or double dose vaccine. He acknowledged that it was desirable to have a single-dose vaccine to quickly control the pandemic. However, he cautioned that it was difficult to achieve the desired levels of immune protection using a single dose.
“Two-dose vaccines are suitable for attaining the desired immunogenicity as the first dose gives some immune protection, and the second dose augments it further,” he added.
During his ‘Sunday Samvaad’ interaction on social media, the union health minister said the Centre is working on building capacities to use 40-50 crore doses of a vaccine against COVID-19, the diseases caused by the novel coronavirus. These doses will cover “approximately 20-25 crore people by July 2021”.
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.
Who will be vaccinated first?
Frontline health workers, from both the public and private sector, will be the first to get inoculated. This group includes doctors, nurses, paramedics, sanitary staff, ASHA workers, surveillance officers and others involved in tracing, testing and treatment of COVID-19 patients.
While the health minister did not elaborate on the second phase of vaccination and which group it would cover, it is widely believed that priority would be given to senior citizens and individuals with comorbidities – those categorised as ‘high risk’.
Additionally, if the aim is to vaccinate 20-25 of the 130 crore Indians by July 2021, the vaccination drive would have to begin much earlier. While the health minister did not give a specific date as to when the exercise would begin, he said that “details of the entire process will be shared in the coming months”.
How will this work?
A list of these ‘priority population groups’ will be submitted by states and Union Territory administrations by the end of October, according to the Health Ministry. States will also be submitting details of cold chain facilities and other related infrastructure down to the block level which would be required to carry out the vaccination drive.
It is to be noted that the Centre has not granted emergency use authorisation for any COVID-19 vaccine candidate so far. Multiple vaccine candidates -- developed indigenously and by foreign pharmaceutical giants -- are currently under phase-3 clinical trials to confirm their efficacy.
The vaccine doses, once cleared, will be procured at the central level and dispatched to various states. According to the ministry, each consignment would be tracked in real time until it is delivered to “ensure it reaches those who need it most”.
The government is also likely to make subsequent procurements of the vaccine after deploying 40-45 crore doses in the first stage. Given India’s huge population, one may have to wait and watch how effective this can be.Click here for Moneycontrol’s full coverage of the novel coronavirus pandemic