Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan has dismissed the idea of “herd immunity” as a strategic option for India in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. Speaking at the daily Health Ministry briefing on July 30, Bhushan was categorically stated that India’s large population meant an outcome like that would come at a “very high cost.”
“No, it is not (a strategic option), in a country like India, with a population of roughly 138 crore (people), it can only be an outcome, at a very high cost,” he said.
Bhushan further explained that since herd immunity relied on indirect protection from infectious diseases such as COVID-19, the same would only be possible when a large number of the population becomes immune or once vaccination is complete. He instead advised “sustained COVID-19 appropriate behaviours” to combat the spread.
Bhushan also spoke about the progress of two indigenous vaccines, stating that they are under Phase 1 and 2 clinical trials. Testing for these is being conducted with over 1,000 subjects each.
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 Health Ministry has begun to actively engage with stakeholders within and outside the government to prioritise distribution and administration of COVID-19 vaccines, if and when they become available,” he said. Adding that there is “near unanimity on the need to administer COVID-19 vaccine on a much larger scale than other vaccines” in India.
“Apart from questions regarding logistics, this poses many ethical questions which are still being deliberated upon within the central government,” he added.
Besides, the indigenous vaccines, India is also a member of and plays a leading role in both the Gavi and CEPI vaccine projects, Bhushan noted. “A dedicated facility called COVAX for vaccines has been developed under this, along with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI),” he shared.