Touching on the social challenges that need to be overcome for a vaccination programme to be successful, Prof (Dr) Balram Bhargava, director general, Indian Council of Medical Research addressed the vaccine hesitancy among some sections of frontline healthcare staff by pointing out that it was vaccines that helped eradicate highly contagious diseases like small pox and polio. Therefore, he believes that the development of vaccines and ultimately elimination of the disease is a long-drawn battle
January 16, 2021, the day India rolled-out the largest COVID-19 vaccination drive, will be inscribed in history as a momentous event in the field of medical research and perhaps in our lives. Within 10 months of decoding the virus genome sequence, we have a vaccine, which has been developed and tested for its safety and efficacy. Large numbers of frontline healthcare staff are getting inoculated every day but there is a section within them who are hesitant. We need to realise that modern medical science has provided us an opportunity to safeguard us from this contagious disease, which previous generations who faced pandemic, never had.
It’s a historical fact, that only a vaccine will help us in managing and controlling the pandemic and saving lives. Way back in 1959 World Health Organisation (WHO) had started a crusade to eradicate smallpox, but even after 10 years smallpox was still there in 1967. However, efforts were intensified and scientists came up with a vaccine which ultimately led to the eradication of smallpox in 1975 after a very intense vaccination and containment campaign. It took us many years before the world was free of the disease.
It is because of a vaccine that we managed to eradicate highly contagious diseases such as smallpox, which used to kill millions only a few decades ago.
In India, vaccines have helped us defeat polio – the country was certified polio-free by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2014. Further, our scientists have developed vaccines that provide protection against diseases such as plague, cholera, rabies, measles, rotavirus, and influenza among others.
So, we need to realise that the development of vaccines and ultimately elimination of the disease is a long-drawn battle. With vaccines, we have achieved an important milestone in our fight against COVID-19.
Two vaccines have become available in India, one has been indigenously developed and manufactured and the other has been developed in partnership and manufactured in the country.
Till now, spread of the infection was contained through COVID-19 appropriate behaviours like using masks, social distancing, hand hygiene and contact tracing and testing. But now we have a proven tool, which has historically been effective in containing spread of infectious diseases and ultimately ensuring its elimination.
Apart from science, for a vaccination programme to be successful, it has to overcome various social challenges as well. Historically, we have seen that every time a new vaccine is introduced, there is vaccine hesitancy.
People have a lot of concerns – some of them are legitimate while some arise out misconceptions about how the vaccine can adversely affect their health. Clear messaging and direct communication from relevant sources will be successful in creating public awareness regarding the disease and promoting preventive measures.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a humanitarian crisis, globally millions have died and many are still battling this virus. This has necessitated the emergency use of the COVID-19 vaccine candidates. We believe the vaccine will prove to be the difference between the life and death of numerous individuals vulnerable to severe COVID-19 disease. With successful mass vaccination against COVID-19, the government is determined to protect our citizens.