A few days ago, Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed his concern over the aversion of a section of the Indian population towards vaccination. He has attributed this to rumour mongering. The government has also taken steps to check this. Recently, Ajay Bhalla, Secretary, Department of Home Affairs, Government of India, has written to the states to take penal action against those spreading rumours about the safety and efficacy of the Covid vaccines.
According to a study by LocalCircles, nearly 70% Indians are unwilling to take the Covid-19 vaccines. The survey included more than 18,000 people from 242 districts across the country and was done between December 10 and 15, 2020. Out of the total respondents, 66% were men and 34% were women. This was the second study done by the organisation. Its first study was done between October 15 and 20, 2020, and it had shown that 61% of the respondents were then reluctant to take the vaccine.
Sachin Taparia, the founder of LocalCircles explained the findings. He said that the most important reason behind the reluctance is limited information about side effects and on the efficiency levels of the vaccines. He also added that a large number of people think that they have a low chance of infection due to their perceived high levels of immunity. At the same time, India has been witnessing a decline in the number of infections. That has also contributed to the general apathy towards vaccination.
It is expected that healthcare professionals are more conscious about the importance of vaccination. But in a separate and independent study on healthcare professionals, it was found that about 45% of the respondents said that they would take the vaccine whenever it would be available. But 55% of the respondents stated that they would deny vaccination or were undecided. The study was done on 1,424 respondents.
A recent report on frontline municipal workers around Kolkata
A recent report (January 26, 2021, Anandabazaar) mentioned that most of the frontline workers of municipalities around Kolkata are reluctant to take the Covid-19 vaccination. On January 25, only 488 persons attended out of a total of the 1363 assigned for vaccination in Kolkata Corporation. On that day, in Bidhannagar Corporation, only 22 persons took vaccines out of the assigned 200 persons. The picture was similar in Dum Dum Municipality where 55 persons were vaccinated out of 200. In Naihati Municipality, only 15 persons attended out of the 175 intended for vaccination.
According to scientists like Dr. Sayantan Banerjee, people should take the vaccination as the positive impacts far outweigh the negative side effects.
Serum Institute of India’s (SII) Covishield and Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin are being administered as part of India’s Covid-19 vaccination programme. The producers have released factsheets mentioning the ‘side effects’ of their vaccines. There are some additional doubts regarding Covaxin as it has passed only the phase 1 and phase 2 of the human trials and is yet to complete the third phase of the trials. Professor Randeep Guleria, Director, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, has reportedly said Covaxin would be used for back up vaccination - as on now. That means it could be used when Covishield is not in supply.
Possibility of mass vaccination
At first, the government is aiming to vaccinate its one crore healthcare workers. In the second stage, another two-crore state and central frontline workers (different police and armed forces personnel, municipal workers and prison persons) are aimed to be vaccinated. Apart from them, a prioritised 27 crore population (who are over 50 years of age and below 50 years but with comorbidities) will also be vaccinated. The government needs to vaccinate around 30 crore people in the first three phases – which entails the need of an additional six crore vaccine doses.
Adar Poonawalla, Managing Director, SII, reportedly said that in future, new vaccine producing centres would produce one million doses of the vaccine per week. That means about 52 million per year. So, it would be possible to vaccinate only 2.5 crore people per year. Additionally, it is report that the Covid-19 vaccine can create immunity in the human body for a year. So, a person needs to be vaccinated every year and that underlines the need for mass immunisation.