On Friday, India established a new milestone by administering more than 2 crore Covid-19 vaccinations in a single day. The country is the first in the world to reach such a large-scale vaccination target in one day.
Dr NK Arora, Chief of National Immunization Technical Advisory Group (NTAGI), praised the achievement saying, “I would like to congratulate India as a whole, as well as the citizens’ enthusiasm for immunisation. We know of nations like the United States and the United Kingdom that had large inventories of vaccines but individuals who were not ready to accept them. It’s happening at such a rapid speed that 1.37 lakh individuals may have already been vaccinated as we speak. This has been in the works since March 2020, and it will not be completed overnight.”
Taking into consideration the speed of vaccination, do you believe we are on the right track to vaccinate entire country by year end as previous government claims?
Dr NK Arora: People thought that it would take us 3 to 5 years to immunize the entire nation, but we achieved it. The reason behind this is that there are 4 to 5 sectors. Right from the beginning, there has been a philosophy of vaccine Atmanirbharta. Each and every vaccine administered in this country is Made In India and that is why we are not begging anyone else. Secondly, the preparation for rollout started in July when Corona vaccine centre planning was being done. Thirdly, we have a very expensive child immunization framework and infrastructure and this vaccination had been put on that. Fourthly, adults were being immunized for the first time and nobody was sure whether they will come up for vaccine or not. There was vaccine hesitancy even among the medical professionals for the first 6 to 8 weeks and there was a very proactive program to take care of that. Fifth, a major program for managing and keeping a record of this supply system was present.
Co-Win is a phenomenal platform and I believe country is very proud to have such digital platform for the management. Finally, we have a genomic surveillance program which is Cutting edge Technology, which is monitoring and picking up virus samples from all over the country to check how effective our vaccine is. I must recall here that we immunize 17 crore children every week under the Polio Immunisation Program, that is 2.5 crore children being immunized each day. If we can do that, we can do this also.
When can we expect children’s vaccination?
We are having meetings on prioritizing adults and children separately. We have 44 crore children below 18 years of age and 12 crore adolescents between the age of 12 to 17 years of age. From October onwards, we will prioritize those children who are likely to catch severe disease and possible unfortunate death. Healthy children do get infected just like adults but the possibility of severe infection and death is almost zero. Now schools are also opening, and once the parents, teachers and other adults are immunized, children will remain in a protective ring.
What is the status on the WHO approval on Covaxin?
Dr NK Arora: We should most probably get it by this week or the next week at maximum. Most of the paper work has been going on for quite some time and we have already provided the data for the safety of the vaccine and hope that it should be done as soon as possible and people might commute form October onwards.
Everyone is talking about the booster dose, what is the development on that front?
Dr NK Arora: In a meeting, we were just discussing about the efficacy of the vaccines and the vaccine tracker platform announced by the government last week. I would like to share that one dose is providing 97% protection from the virus, while two doses provide 98% efficacy and chances of hospitalization is reduced by 95%. Several parts of the country are conducting studies to see that it is not just the antibodies that provide protection because their decline is a natural process. We are looking at the ground situation and when the scientific evidence comes, we will start with the booster shots as well and we will also identify the subgroups that require special attention. We are regularly scanning through the scientific evidence of our country, not relying on data provided by USA or any other nation. We will work on this data only.
Indemnity was there regarding Pfizer and Moderna. Is that something that is under consideration or are we going to continue on the path of Atmanirbhar Bharat for the time being?
Dr NK Arora: We have our own DNA vaccine which is world’s first vaccine and we will have our own RNA vaccine by November most likely. Indemnity is a sticking issue but we have our own effective vaccines and the discussions are being carried out on our terms.
What would be your advice to the people this festive season?
Dr NK Arora: With folded hands, I would say that pandemic comes once in a century while festivals come each year. So we must have another year of discipline. Spend the days of festivities among your own family members which is safer. I may have been vaccinated but the virus can spread through me to others and similarly I could get infected too. Covid appropriate behaviour and social distancing does not only mean keeping an arm’s distance away from a person, but keeping away from the crowd. We have witnessed a spike during the festivities last time and hence I would really request that people celebrate festivals with discipline this year.
Would you second the claims on third wave or would you deny?
Dr NK Arora: 70 to 75 per cent of our population has already been infected will now. There will be a spike driven by lack of discipline. Whenever we have let our guards down, we will invite a surge. Fortunately, no new variant has come and it is a redeeming point. It will not be wise on our part to not be disciplined for the coming 6 to 8 weeks.