With several myths doing the rounds in India around the Covid-19 vaccination program, the Central government has come up with detailed facts claiming that the misinformation is arising due to distorted statements, half truths and blatant lies.
NITI Aayog member and Chair of the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for COVID-19 (NEGVAC) Dr. Vinod Paul busted these myths giving out facts on all these issues.
Myth 1: Centre is not doing enough to buy vaccines from abroad
Fact: The Central Government remained engaged continuously with all the major international vaccine manufacturers right from mid-2020. Multiple rounds of discussions took place with Pfizer, J&J and Moderna. However, it is not that their vaccines are available in free supply. We need to understand that buying vaccines internationally is not similar to buying ‘off the shelf’ items. Plus, vaccine companies give preference to countries of their origin just as our own vaccine makers have done unhesitatingly for us. As a result of the government’s efforts, Sputnik vaccine trials got accelerated and with timely approval, Russia has already sent two tranches of vaccines and accomplished tech-transfer to our companies that would start manufacturing very soon.
Myth 2: Centre has not approved vaccines available globally
Fact: The Central government has proactively eased the entry of vaccines approved by the US, EMA, the UK, Japan, and WHO’s emergency use listing into India in April. These vaccines will not need to undergo prior bridging trials. The provision has now been further amended to waive off the trial requirement altogether for the well-established vaccines manufactured in other countries. No application of any foreign manufacturer for approval is pending with the drugs controller.
Myth 3: Centre is not doing enough to ramp up domestic production of vaccines
Fact: The Central Government is playing the role of an effective facilitator to enable more companies to produce vaccines from early 2020. There is only one Indian company (Bharat Biotech) that has industrial production and the government has ensured that three other companies will start production of Covaxin, apart from enhancing Bharat Biotech’s own plants, which have increased from 1 to 4.
Covaxin production by Bharat Biotech is being increased from under 1 crore per month to 10 crore by the month of October. Additionally, the three PSUs will together aim to produce up to 4.0 crore doses by December.
With constant encouragement from the Government, Serum Institute is ramping up Covishield production of 6.5 crore doses per month to 11.0 crore doses per month.
The government is also ensuring in partnership with Russia that Sputnik will be manufactured by 6 companies coordinated by Dr. Reddy’s. The Union Government is also supporting the efforts of Zydus Cadila, BioE as well Gennova for their respective indigenous vaccines through liberal funding under the Covid Suraksha scheme.
The development of Bharat Biotech’s single-dose intranasal vaccine is proceeding well with government funding, and it could be a game-changer for the world. The estimate of production of over 200 crore doses by our vaccine industry by the end of 2021 is the result of such efforts and unstinted support and partnership.
Myth 4: Centre should invoke compulsory licensing
Fact: Compulsory Licensing is not a very attractive option since it is not a ‘formula’ that matters, but an active partnership, training of human resources, sourcing of raw materials and highest levels of bio-safety labs which are required. Tech transfer is the key and that remains in the hands of the company that has carried out R&D. In fact, we have gone one step ahead of Compulsory Licensing and are ensuring an active partnership between Bharat Biotech & 3 other entities to enhance the production of Covaxin. A similar mechanism is being followed for Sputnik.
Myth 5: Centre has abdicated its responsibility to the states
Fact: fThe Central Government is doing all the heavy-lifting, from funding vaccine manufacturers to giving them quick approvals to ramping up production to bringing foreign vaccines to India. The vaccine procured by the Centre is supplied wholly to the states for free administration to people. All this is very much in the knowledge of the states. The Central government has merely enabled states to try procuring vaccines on their own, on their explicit requests.
The Centre ran the entire vaccine program from January to April and it was quite well-administrated compared to the situation in May. But states, that had not even achieved good coverage of healthcare workers and frontline workers in three months wanted to open up the process of vaccination and wanted more decentralisation. Health is a state subject & the liberalised vaccine policy was a result of the incessant requests being made by the states to give them more power.
Myth 6: Centre is not giving enough vaccines to the states
Fact: Centre is allotting enough vaccines to the states in a transparent manner as per agreed guidelines. In fact, states are also being informed in advance of the vaccine availability. Vaccine availability is going to increase in near future and much more supply would be possible. In the non-government of India channel, states are getting 25% of the doses and private hospitals are getting 25% doses. However, the hiccups and issues faced by the people in the administration of these 25% doses by the states leave a lot to be desired.
Myth 7: Centre is not taking any step to vaccinate children
Fact: As of now, no country in the world is giving vaccines to children under 12 years. Also, the WHO has no recommendation on vaccinating children. There have been studies about the safety of vaccines in children, which have been encouraging. Trials for children in India are also going to begin soon. However, vaccinating children should not be decided on the basis of panic in Whatsapp groups and because some politicians want to play politics. It has to be a decision taken by our scientists after adequate data is available based on trials.