Though there has been an element of hesitancy in some sections, the nationwide vaccination drive against Covid-19 is off to a reasonably good start, given the set of geographical and logistical challenges in India. Of the over 2.25 lakh people inoculated in the first two days of the programme, the largest in the world, as many as 447 reported adverse effects, of whom three required hospitalisation. The number of adverse reactions should not cause worry as they account for 0.19% of the persons vaccinated. This is expected of any vaccine. There is a need for the scientific community to inject confidence among the general public about the need for vaccination and remove any apprehensions on the possible side effects. A rational and scientific approach is needed at this juncture to ensure more enthusiastic participation by the people. As of now, the share of adverse reactions should not give rise to questions about any vaccine in particular and the use of vaccines for building immunity against Covid-19 in general. It is important to collect data on the nature of adverse reactions and characteristics of people experiencing them as such an exercise might reveal patterns or new information that can help improve vaccine delivery. The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) must keep relaying necessary information to the medical community and the public at large. The government must ensure that the information is widely disseminated to counter rumour and worse.
In a vaccination programme of this magnitude, some instances of adverse reactions are bound to occur. However, they should not harm the mass inoculation so long as these are analysed meticulously and shared with the public in an open and transparent manner. The benefits far outweigh the risks of immunisation. The immediate plan is to vaccinate three crore healthcare and frontline workers and later another 27 crore people above 50 years of age and those with comorbidities. India is among the few countries in the world which have experience with universal childhood immunisation and administering millions of doses in extremely diverse geographical conditions. However, in the ongoing exercise, some glitches have been reported in the Co-WIN mobile application that vaccinators use to create a database of people who will be given the doses during a particular session and record their status. The portal has been crashing intermittently, leading to delays. The authorities need to fix this in order to step up the coverage. The government must bolster public trust in the vaccination process, particularly since rumours and conspiracy theories against vaccines still find some takers. There is also a need to actively collaborate with private players to ensure safe delivery of the vaccine.
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