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No magic bullet for COVID-19

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As vaccinations increase, this is no time to let our guard down

On March 16 National Vaccination Day, it is ironic to be reminding ourselves that vaccines are no magic bullet.  At least in the case of COVID-19. Even though India’s COVID-19 vaccine coverage is picking up pace, we still have a long way to go.

Data shows as of March 11, 25 million doses covered just 1.4% of India’s population compared to 34 per cent in the UK and 29 per cent in the US.

But the country’s COVID-19 vaccine coverage is slowly picking up as citizens above 45 years with specific co-morbidities and those aged more than 60 years join healthcare and frontline workers to take the jabs. As of March 15 7 am, health ministry data showed that the country is nearing 3 crore cumulative vaccination doses. 2,97,38,409 vaccine doses have been administered, with more than 15 lakh doses given over the last 24 hours.

It may not be fair to compare vaccine coverage between countries as each started their national COVID-19 vaccination campaigns at different times, driven by varying regulatory schedules and compulsions. Also, while India’s daily vaccination numbers may be high, there are regions that still lag behind, due to patchy uneven access. And if there is one hard lesson from this pandemic, it is that no one is safe until everyone is safe.

So while our pharma and vaccine manufacturing has stepped up to the challenge of making enough vaccines not just for India but also the world, it is now time to put the healthcare delivery system in place.

Corporate hospitals have shown their willingness to join their public sector counterparts and the increasing daily numbers of doses administered is testimony not just to reducing vaccine hesitancy but also increasing access.

Having a wide spread out network of vaccination centres is also crucial to treat and report back adverse events to the vaccine, the crucial pharmacovigilance phase of any medical intervention.

But it is important to realise that the vaccine is not a magic bullet. With variants on the rise and a second wave eminent in key large states like Maharashtra, Kerala, Punjab, Karnataka, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Madhya Pradesh which are showing a steep rise in daily new cases, healthcare professionals must caution the newly vaccinated that masking, social distancing, etc must continue.

Dr Harsh Vardhan, Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare himself emphasised this advice, at the inauguration of the sixth Mega-Health camp in Parliament House Annexe for super-specialist consultations for Parliamentarians. “It is important to ascertain that COVID Appropriate behaviour is followed even after the vaccine is available” said Dr Harsh Vardhan, explaining that “negligence towards COVID appropriate behaviour main reason behind the rising cases in the country.”

We just don’t know enough about this virus. Or its variants. We have not got enough data on the vaccines either. Therefore, while vaccination is a must, so is surveillance, testing, and contact tracing.

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