Professor Dr. Samiran Panda is the Head-Epidemiology and Communicable Diseases Division, ICMR Headquarters and Scientist-G and Director. He spoke to BE’s Kishore Kumar Biswas about some issues that are in the public domain regarding the Covid-19 vaccines.
Q) When will the Indian government be ready to start Covid-19 vaccination in India?
A) As of now, it is not possible to say when the vaccination process will be started. The government is preparing for that.
Q) Has the government received their required estimates of Covid-19 vaccines from the state governments?
A) The state governments are preparing their lists. These lists will include doctors, nurses, workers in medical centres, and frontline workers like police personnel and government professionals in related high-risk professions.
Q) Has the Union government reserved its requirements to the vaccine producers? What is the present requirement of the government?
A) No, the government has not reserved any number of vaccines to any producers. Pfizer’s vaccines have to be preserved at minus 70 degree centigrade, which is not suitable for India. The Indian government will prefer vaccines made by Biocon Limited or the vaccines that will be produced by the Serum Institute as these products can be preserved at normal temperature. All preparations are being done simultaneously which include the preparation of the lists, negotiating with the vaccine producers, and making other arrangements. No state government will present any arbitrary number of requisitions. It would be done on the basis of proper identification of the health workers, frontline workers, and other such professionals.
Q) It is being reported that the number of Covid-19 patients and Covid-19 related deaths are falling. A famous doctor has been quoted in the media telling that the intensity of the pandemic was going to subside automatically in a few months or so and there would be no need for vaccination when the vaccines would finally come into use. Is there any possibility of that?
A) It can subside only when the mixing between susceptible persons and infected persons decreases considerably. Also, people have to take proper precaution from being infected by the Covid-19 virus.
Q) But the number of patients per day is decreasing gradually. How would you respond?
A) No, it has also been expanding in many places. In many cases, the aged patients and those with co-morbidities are having great trouble.
Q) Is there any scientific basis or study to have an estimate about what percentage of people would be needed to be vaccinated to break the chain of the Covid -19 virus in a country?
A) This is based on the addition of the priority groups that should be vaccinated first. It has been seen that healthcare workers and frontline workers have higher occupational risks. Moreover, co-morbid patients also have to be added. Any estimate of the number of vaccinations needed to break the chain would require these estimations to be factored in.
Q) A section of people thinks that Covid-19 vaccines have been discovered in haste. So, they are doubtful about the safety and efficiency of the vaccine. What is your opinion?
A) It is true that earlier vaccines took more time to be produced. At present, the technology is very advanced. Therefore, research work can be done in a shorter time. So, there should not be any doubt about the safety of the vaccines.
Q) It is known that vaccine research has several steps. In the first phase one aspect is studied and another aspect is tested in the second phase. Then if one stage is passed does it mean at least an aspect is confirmed?
A) In the first phase the safety of the vaccine is examined. In the second phase its immunogenicity is examined. That means how effective the vaccine is in resisting the outside virus in our body is tested and verified. In the third phase, safety and efficacy of the vaccine is tested on a large number of people. So, when a vaccine has passed the second stage, it means its immunogenicity and also safety to an extent is already proved. In the third stage, all the issues of the vaccine are tested in a large number of people. This is the difference between the second and the third phases.