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Updated on: Thursday, January 21, 2021, 12:25 AM IST

Suspicions, superstitions concerning vaccines pose greater challenge

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Not unlike the rollout of the Goods and Services Tax platform some years ago, the nation-wide launch of the coronavirus vaccine last week too was not without its glitches. This was only to be expected. The huge army of health specialists and generalists required to implement the world’s largest vaccination programme is bound to learn on the job, as it were. While the authorities will soon master the logistics involved in carrying out such a huge vaccination programme, the greater challenge is posed by the suspicions and superstitions concerning the vaccine itself.

The launch of the official internet platform for the vaccination programme, for instance, was riddled with failures at several places. Some States, Haryana, for example, abandoned the use of CoWin, the national vaccination registration and recording platform for all citizens to register and wait their turn to receive the two jabs, until it was set right. This should not prove an insurmountable problem, though. But what is harder is to prevent bad publicity for the vaccines themselves.

Since the launch of the programme, a couple of fatalities among thousands who have been inoculated has fuelled fear among the lay people. Whether the deaths following the administration of the vaccine were connected to it or otherwise will be known after the post-mortem reports are received but there is no need for panic. Some reaction after taking long-in-use vaccines is also ordinarily expected.

More so, it cannot be ruled out in the Covid-19 vaccines, especially given the compressed time-frame for research, development, trial and manufacture, etc. However, no one should have an iota of doubt about its efficacy and safety. Scientists will not play with human lives, whatever the pressures to develop a vaccine to fight the global pandemic. Given that the country’s top doctors were among the first to receive the jab, among them Dr Randeep Guleria, the director of the premier All India Institute of Medical Sciences, could boost confidence in the vaccines.

However, the post-launch advisory issued by Bharat Biotech, cautioning people with certain medical conditions or pregnant women and those taking blood-thinners, etc, would have been more helpful had it been released ahead of the launch of the vaccination programme.

Consequently, the Hyderabad-based pharma company has undermined public confidence in its own vaccine, causing people to either avoid taking the jab or to insist on being inoculated by the one manufactured by the Pune-based Serum Institute of India. Bharat Biotech now has its task cut out. It should undertake a massive public awareness programme supported by research data, to win the confidence of the people.

Given how a good percentage of people listed to receive the vaccines failed to turn up at the designated centres around the country, it is clear that public faith in modern medicine despite a high degree of literacy continues to be uneven and patchy. It is here that film celebrities and prominent people from diverse walks of life can help by example, taking the vaccine at widely publicised events. Maybe government leaders both at the Centre and in the States too can take the vaccine to inspire confidence in its safety and efficacy.

It is important that the country-wide vaccination programme succeeds, for the nation to effectively put behind the economic, social, educational disruption caused by the pandemic. Though the economy is slowly getting back to normal, for it to pick up momentum it will have to await the onset of herd immunity. Doctors reckon that for herd immunity to set in, it is essential that at least 35-40 crore Indians are vaccinated. If the vaccination programme proceeds as planned, this number of inoculations could be possible by mid-June only, provided bad publicity and glitches do not mar the exercise.

It is important to bear in mind that there is a huge demand for the Indian vaccines, with the government already taking steps to despatch the first batch to Bangladesh and a few other countries. If these countries can repose faith in vaccines made here, it should not be hard for Indians to accept them as safe and effective.

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Published on: Thursday, January 21, 2021, 02:30 AM IST
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