The COVID-19 vaccine might protect individuals but a well-designed vaccination programme will have to be put in place to control COVID-19 transmission and reduce disease burden in the community, T. Jacob John, renowned virologist and former Professor, Christian Medical College, Vellore, has said.

While health-care workers, those above 65 years, and those with co-morbidities have been prioritised for administering COVID-19 vaccine, vaccinating these special groups will not be enough for returning to reasonably relaxed normal life, Dr. John, who also heads the five-member committee set up by the State government to explore the possibility of vaccine production in Kerala, said.

He was speaking at a webinar on ‘COVID Vaccines: Prospects and Problems’, organised by the Thiruvananthapuram branch of the Indian Medical Association here on Friday.

The current vaccination platform in the country, that of the Universal Immunisation Programme, will not be enough for COVID vaccination if the government intended to administer vaccines to the elderly population, he pointed out.

Supervised activity

Vaccination will have to be a supervised activity and adverse effects following vaccination will have to be closely scrutinised, and most importantly, a good documentation and data management system and a system for closely following up vaccinated persons in the long term would all have to be set up, all of which made COVID vaccination a challenging prospect, Dr. John said.

While theoretically there need not be much worry over the safety of the mRNA (Pfizer and Moderna) or the adenovirus- vectored DNA vaccine (Sputnik V and Astra Zeneca-Oxford), both of which are different from classical pathways used for designing vaccines, the regulatory agencies in the country will have to set up an independent panel of experts and evaluate more than just data at the level of the Data and Safety Monitoring Board before giving final approval, he cautioned.

“The Drugs Control General of India should independently evaluate the entire protocols of the Phase 3 trials of the intended vaccine, the interpretation of the results, and scrutinise if the safety and efficacy claims are accurate and plausible,” Dr. John said.

Caution advised

He, however, warned that all hopes should not be pinned on vaccines to end the pandemic or to stop the course of the virus.

One would have to wait and see whether SARS-CoV-2 would behave like a respiratory virus (which causes repeated re-infections) or a systemic infectious virus to assess how effective and how long the vaccine-induced protection would last.

Because of these uncertainties, people should not relax their guard and would have to diligently follow universal masking and all other COVID-19 safety protocols for a longer time, Dr. John said.

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