By Vrinda Lobo
Mumbai: With it’s 1.3 billion people, India will have to vaccinate about 1 crore people a day to counter the spread of COVID-19 and get back to normalcy. With more different types of vaccines available and a speed-up in production, India can achieve this goal.
In an Interview with the Department of Science and Technolog’s OTT – India Science Channel, Dr Narendra Kumar Arora answers common questions asked by people on COVID-19. Dr Arora is the Chairman of COVID-19 Working Group of the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunization (NTAGI).
In the Interview, Dr Arora said that India can soon expect the world’s first DNA-plasmid vaccine by Zydus Cadilla and a vaccine called Biological E, a protein sub-unit vaccine.
He said, “We are hopeful that this vaccine will be available by September. The Indian m-RNA vaccine which can be stored at temperature 2 – 8 Degree Celsius should also be available by September. Two other vaccines namely Novavax by Serum Institute of India and Johnson & Johnson may also be expected soon. By the third week of July, the production capacity of Bharat Biotech and SII are going to be increased phenomenally. This will enhance the vaccine supply in the country. By August, we expect to procure 30-35 crore doses in a month”.
This will make it possible for India to vaccinate one crore people daily.
Dr Arora said that the new vaccines will reduce the chances to get infected with COVID-19 by 80%, when asked about its effectiveness. If a person is asymptomatic, then it is an infection, but if someone shows symptoms it is a disease. All vaccines produced globally prevent the COVID-19 disease. The chances of having a severe disease or of death are negligible after being fully vaccinated.
There is lots of misinformation and vaccine hesitancy particularly in the rural areas. Dr Arora said, “Many people mostly from rural areas do not take COVID-19 seriously and confuse it with normal fever. People need to understand that COVID-19 may be mild in many cases. But when it takes a severe form, it may become a financial burden and may also lead to loss of life.” He assures that all COVID-19 vaccines in India have undergone clinical trials and rigorous tests, they are completely safe. All types of vaccines show mild side effects, which is normal.
Some people fear that if they don’t experience fever after vaccination, the vaccine may not be working. Dr Arora states that most people don’t face side effects and only 20%-30% have symptoms like fever. Others show side effects after the first jab but not after the second or the other way around. It is different from person to person.
Even after both doses of vaccine, people can still get infected with COVID-19, but they will not become serious ill or die. Dr Arora advices to follow COVID-19 Appropriate Behavior after vaccination, because people can still transmit the virus and pass it on to others.
Being asked about antibodies, Dr Arora said, “whenever this virus will try to enter, the entire body becomes alert and starts to act against it. Thus, having antibody is not the only sign of our body’s immunity power.” COVID-19 is new to mankind and came to light only one and a half years ago, and vaccination started just 6 months ago. Like most other vaccines, the immunity of COVID-19 vaccines will last for six months to a year. “With the passage of time, our understanding of COVID-19 will improve,” Dr Arora said.
Worldwide, COVID-19 vaccines are being produces by different companies and platforms. Dr Arora states, “It never has happened before in human history that different processes and platforms have been used to develop vaccines for the same disease. Since the manufacturing processes are different for these vaccines, their effect on body will also not be the same. The process of taking different types of vaccine in two doses, or again a different vaccine later in a booster dose (if required), is called interchangeability. Whether this can be done is an important scientific question.” India is one of the few countries where people being given different types of COVID-19 vaccines. There are three reasons to accept such interchangeability: 1) increase of immune power, 2) it makes vaccine delivery easier, 3) safety is assured.
Some countries have started researches on mix and match of COVID-19 vaccines and India will join and start research in a few weeks time, according to Dr Arora.
One important question, Dr Arora was asked, is on safety of COVID-19 vaccines for children and when India can expect its children to be vaccinated. He said trials on children between 2 and 18 years old are done in India and results can be expected by October. Most children infected with COVID-19 don’t fall seriously ill, but children become a transmitter of the virus and should also be vaccinated.
In the Interview, Dr Arora was asked if COVID-19 vaccines can cause infertility. He said that when the polio vaccine came out the same rumors were spread in India, that the vaccine will cause infertility. This sort of rumor was spread by the anti-vaccine lobby. “We should know that all vaccines go through intense scientific researches. None of the vaccines have this sort of side effect. I would like to fully assure everyone that this sort of propaganda only misguides people. Our main intention is to save ourselves, family and society from coronavirus. So, everyone must come forward and get vaccinated,” Dr Arora added.