Almost three months after launching its Covid vaccination programme, India has managed to fully inoculate barely 1 per cent of its population. Even as the second wave of the pandemic is ravaging the country, only around 7 per cent of the people have received at least one dose of the vaccine so far, way too less compared to Israel (60 per cent) and the US (36 per cent). With the manufacturers of Covishield and Covaxin struggling to ramp up production, the emergency use authorisation granted to Sputnik V is expected to ease the supply situation. India has become the 60th country to approve the Russian vaccine, whose efficacy is an impressive 91.6 per cent. According to the Health Ministry, the national drug regulator found that safety and immunogenicity data from a local trial of Sputnik V was comparable to that of a late-stage trial done in Russia. This timely reassurance is significant, considering how the apprehensions caused by the delayed release of Phase 3 trial data of Covaxin had contributed to vaccine hesitancy in January-February.
Over 850 million doses of Sputnik V are going to be produced in India annually. India needs to ensure that a sizeable proportion of these doses are used for the local population so that the vaccination rate can be improved considerably. It’s heartening that four other vaccines are in advanced stages of development in the country, including Zydus Cadila’s DNA vaccine and Bharat Biotech’s intranasal vaccine. Transparency in the whole process — right from sharing the results of the clinical trials to the grant of approval — is a prerequisite for gaining trust of experts as well as the public.
The widespread availability of a variety of safe and potent vaccines can shape the course of India’s battle against the virus. At the same time, the benefits of vaccination should not be squandered by reckless behaviour. It’s appalling that Covid safety protocols are being thrown to the winds at religious events as well as political rallies. Such super-spreaders who threaten to undo all the good work done by researchers and scientists must not be allowed a free run.