The approval by the national drugs regulator to Oxford Covid-19 vaccine Covishield, manufactured by the Serum Institute, and indigenously developed Covaxin of Bharat Biotech for restricted emergency use in the country marks a moment suffused with hope. It paves the way for the world’s largest inoculation drive; the Prime Minister has described it as a ‘decisive turning point to strengthen a spirited fight’. This celebration of science, however, has been marred by questions being raised by Opposition lawmakers and even some industry specialists over the lack of transparency in giving the nod to Covaxin. The Union Health Minister has assured that stringent protocols have been followed, but since the authorisation comes on the basis of recommendations of a committee, the Centre needs to let experts take the lead in dispelling any doubts that the process was rushed through and could prove to be dangerous.
Terming it a great occasion, the AIIMS director has listed the regimen to be followed: the Bharat Biotech vaccine will be used in an emergency situation when there is a sudden increase in cases, and as a backup. Initially, the Serum Institute vaccine will be given; 50 million doses are available and will be administered. Covaxin will be used only in ‘clinical trial mode’, where consent will be taken and side-effects monitored. Both the vaccines need 2-8 degrees Celsius storing temperature, making them cost-effective. Two doses will have to be taken 28 days apart and protective levels of antibodies generally would develop two weeks after the second dose. The advisory lays stress on taking the complete vaccine.
The first group of beneficiaries will include healthcare and frontline workers, followed by persons over the age of 50 and those under 50 with comorbidities. Vaccine hesitancy is on expected lines, and repeated reassurances would be required on aspects of safety and effectiveness — preferably by experts and not politicians.