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Indian COVID-19 vaccines mark the beginning of our journey towards a normal life

Dr. Vinod Kumar Paul, Member – NITI Aayog (Health), Government of India
India has inoculated its first set of Health Care workers on January 16th, setting in motion what is touted to be the biggest immunisation campaign against COVID-19 anywhere in the world. The government is well prepared to undertake this mammoth national vaccination process as there is absolutely no doubt that the vaccine is our best shot at protection and a return to normal life. Both the vaccines that are being administered in the country, Covaxin and Covishield, have been efficiently tested on thousands of people, and there have been only negligible side-effects recorded.
Being one of the people who got vaccinated on the first day of the drive, I feel fortunate and proud to have entered this final stage in the battle against COVID. I believe that this is a great opportunity to slowly inch back to normalcy and I urge people to shed vaccine apprehensions, and to embrace it without any doubts. Getting vaccinated is the most significant step in bringing an end to this pandemic, and we all need to do our part in this effort by getting vaccinated as soon as we can. For normal life to resume without major disruptions, there needs to be an adequate number of vaccinated people in the system. Therefore, everyone is duty bound to get vaccinated, since the vaccine will protect the individual and also contribute to building a safety net for all others.
Both the vaccines have received emergency use authorization, which means that due to the unusual circumstances in the world, the criteria have been modified in anticipation of an overwhelming benefit. However, this does not mean that regulatory and scientific procedures have not been followed. The vaccines licence for India have undergone strict, unbiased scrutiny and one should respect the scientific process that have unfolded in extremely different, difficult and unusual circumstances. The centre has been proactive in assessing the vaccination need of the country and promoting indigenous research and development in vaccines, pharmaceuticals and diagnostics. The decision to roll out to vaccines as a part of the vaccination program is based on a total assessment of utility, safety and immunogenicity of vaccines.
While vaccinating a large population of India is a massive task, India has made elaborate preparation in the past months to ensure a seamless vaccination program. India’s scientific and technical expertise combined with its intrinsic capability of running a highly successful universal immunisation programme (UIP) across diverse geographical conditions is a testament to its ability in safely and efficiently conducting a campaign of this level. The UIP, which is already in place, has been customised for COVID-19 vaccination process, with a focus on detailed micro-planning and appropriate monitoring systems. We believe that it is very much in our grasp to mount the world’s largest vaccination program as India’s vaccine manufacturing capabilities and its robust infrastructure for vaccine delivery is well positioned and prepared to inoculate a large population in an efficient and effective manner.
India has been largely successful in containing the spread and reducing the growth rate of new COVID-19 cases, and a large part of the credit for this goes to people’s participation in these efforts. On similar lines, the success of the vaccination drive is also directly related to people’s acceptance of the vaccine and their efforts in allaying apprehensions and reducing vaccine hesitancy. Beneficiaries need to share their experience and influence adoption of the vaccines among the larger population. It is also important to make sure that people follow credible information sources that help them understand about the effectiveness and safety of the vaccine, so that they can take fact-based and informed decisions. The scientist and medical community must come forward to help the wider public understand the facts and help address any queries or apprehensions people might have.
With covid-19 leading to significant disruptions in the country, it becomes critical to trust the research being conducted by the scientists in the country to curb the pandemic, right from vaccine research to clinical trials to diagnostic management, science has been the primary tool deployed to combat the pandemic, and India’s scientific and research community has played a vital role in this effort. Therefore, it is important to trust its findings and show faith in home grown products and technology. Developing vaccines is a critical part of this scientific research and has the potential to save lives and stabilize health systems. Like other vaccines that have eradicated high mortality diseases in India, the COVID-19 vaccine also works with the immune system and prepare one’s body in combating the virus, in case of exposure.
There is also a high degree of misinformation and false narratives related to the vaccines that is being spread across the country. We are currently at the initial stages of vaccination, which makes it a fertile ground for rumors and misinformation on vaccines. The need of the hour is for people to call out and dismiss these rumors, and engage with people and communities to reduce amplification, and educate them on the need of the vaccine to break the chain of transmission. We are working to reduce the level of misinformation in the country by providing transparent, science based communication, and urge the media and people to raise awareness and spread the message of safe vaccinations.
Vaccine save lives and while much of the past year was spent in research and development of vaccines, this new year is now providing us an opportunity to leverage all those efforts by making these critical vaccines available and accessible. It is for reach one of us to grab this opportunity so that we can start to lead our normal lives once again.

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