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Opinion

Widening the scope and fake science are the biggest challenges for vaccination

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Oxford-AstraZeneca and Bharat biotech vaccines against coronavirus disease (Covid-19) are ready to get the go-ahead from India’s Comptroller General of Medicines for restricted emergency use, with priority vaccinating workers in health, frontline workers and senior populations scheduled to begin in January. India aims to vaccinate around 300 million people over the next six months.

The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine costs between US $ 5-6 per dose, but will be given free to those in need under the central government’s vaccination campaign. Bharat Biotech has not disclosed the price of its Covid-19 vaccine. “Vaccines are free not only in Delhi but throughout the country,” Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said on Saturday.

The UK became the first country to approve the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine on December 30 and will start vaccination earlier than India on January 4. Only India has approved the Bharat Biotech vaccine for approval.

Vaccines work. Mass vaccination led to the global eradication of smallpox in 1979, with the last case reported in Somalia in 1977. Prior to its eradication, the smallpox virus that causes smallpox infected at least 50 million people annually in the 1950s and killed about 300 million in the 20th century. compared to the 100 million people who died in wars and armed conflicts in the same period.

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Not getting vaccinated not only leaves people unprotected, it also fuels the unrestricted spread of disease. Politics and bogus science are fueling safety concerns about the AstraZeneca vaccine on social media even before it is approved for use in India. Former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav said on Saturday: “I am not going to get vaccinated for now. How can I trust the BJP vaccine …? While former Rajya Sabha member Subramanian Swamy tweeted if Indians were to be guinea pigs.

Politically motivated leaders, discredited researchers, and uninformed influencers can mislead people with little or no understanding of the science, leading the World Health Organization (WHO) to list the “vacillation of vaccines “as one of the top 10 threats to global health in 2019, along with air pollution and climate change. Vaccine hesitancy is a reluctance or refusal to get vaccinated despite the availability and affordability of a vaccine.

With the spreading of fake science in minutes on social media, central and state governments and public health professionals have the added task of debunking emotionally charged rumors.

Dr Harsh Vardhan, a trained physician who led India’s polio eradication efforts both in Delhi and in the country as a state and later as a national health minister, launched an opening volley on Saturday and said people should reject rumors of misinformation against new Covid-19 vaccines. “I appeal to people not to believe any rumors. Different kinds of rumors spread during polio vaccination, but people vaccinated their children, which led to India being declared polio-free. The safety and efficacy of the vaccine is the government’s priority and will not be compromised, ”said Dr. Harsh Vardhan.

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Conducting inoculation campaigns nationwide is not new in India. Mass vaccination wiped out smallpox in the country a year after the disease devastated Bihar, Odisha and West Bengal in 1974, when India recorded at least 61,000 cases and 15,000 deaths. The last indigenous case was reported in the Katihar district of Bihar on July 5, 1975, after which India was declared smallpox free in 1977.

Following extensive nationwide vaccination campaigns, India was officially declared polio-free in 2014, three years after the last case was reported in West Bengal on January 13. Massive outreach programs to dispel conspiracy theories about the polio vaccine as a birth control tool aimed at Muslims in parts of western Uttar Pradesh and Bihar ultimately led to a reduction in cases. Polio cases fell from a global high of 741 in 2009 to one in 2011. The interruption of vaccination coverage has caused polio to persist in Pakistan and Afghanistan, which together reported 451 cases in 2020, according to data reported to the WHO until December 30.

Even before the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted vaccination services, unfounded rumors about the safety of the measles and rubella vaccine had slowed coverage in some states despite the vaccine saving at least 21 million people. lives around the world since 2000.

The biggest challenge is ensuring that vaccines reach those who need them as soon as possible. “Priority populations will not account for more than 10%, therefore we need a plan for the general population or else we will also find a suboptimal vaccination rollout like in the US The government should consider the rollout. 50:50 for three months and then lift restrictions to increase access … Why not divide vaccine deployment 50:50 between the priority population and the general population? Kiran Majumdar Shaw, CEO of Biocon Limited, tweeted.

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