Marching forward, India leads the way in vaccinations | Daily News

Marching forward, India leads the way in vaccinations

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi gets inoculated.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi gets inoculated.

October 21st marked a milestone in the global fight against the COVID-19 pandemic as India accomplished the landmark of one billion vaccination doses. In achieving this, India administered the first dose to around 75% of its population aged more than 18 years. A powerhouse in vaccine manufacturing with a fourth of the world’s total manufacturing capacity, India’s feat in 40 weeks is remarkable by any metric. It was the exemplification of synergizing several aspects of vaccine administration beyond development and production alone by leveraging on technology.

A part of India’s success is attributable to the inherent strengths in her Universal Immunisation Programme framework. The cold chain system of this framework was scaled up and the supply lines managed using Electronic Vaccine Intelligence Network (eVIN), an indigenously developed technology that digitizes vaccine stocks and monitors the temperature of the cold chain through a smartphone application. This technology was instrumental in enabling storage of vaccines across 29,000 cold storage points and their delivery in more than 700 temperature controlled vehicles throughout the country.

eVIN was complemented by another unique digital platform developed in India - CoWIN. This platform made it possible to register beneficiaries, schedule their vaccinations, generate QR Code based vaccine certificates and capture their vaccination history. In addition, it also kept track of the entire implementation process including daily coverage and vaccine requirement in all regions of India.

The associated facts are startling - 313,000 vaccination centres of which 74% are at rural locations and account for 65% of the total coverage till now; vaccination teams consisting of 740,000 persons including more than 264,000 vaccinators. All but 0.4 million doses of Sputnik V out of the billion were made in India and 95% of all administered doses were delivered by the country’s public health system.

Vaccination drive

India also stands out as the country which developed vaccines across multiple platforms such as COVAXIN (inactivated virus platform), Zycov-D (DNA vaccine), Covishield (viral vector vaccine) and Gennova (considered for being India’s first mRNA vaccine). Government extended financial and technical support to indigenous vaccine manufacturers to make this possible. All these were under the aegis of a National Task Force for Focused Research on Corona Vaccine which was established in April 2020. Evidently, it was an early start that enabled the launch of the vaccination drive on January 16th this year.

Through a phased and scientific approach, the vaccination programme which initially targeted the healthcare and frontline workers as well as senior citizens later expanded into people above 45 years of age and with co-morbidities and other categories before culminating in all adults above 18 years. As accessibility is being stepped through innovative means such as Workplace COVID Vaccination Centres, Near to Home Vaccination and Mobile Vaccination Units etc, prioritized focus is being given to special categories like pregnant and lactating women, school teachers, destitute and other vulnerable groups.

Amidst the milestone, it is too early for India to be complacent as challenges remain. While celebrating the landmark and gearing up for the future, it is the indomitable spirit of the frontline health workers and thousands of vaccinators, who overcame challenges of terrain and weather to reach the remotest areas to ensure that no one is left behind that truly command praises in addition to the visionary leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Still, the country has some way to go in fully vaccinating its population: Just 30 percent of the 900 million people eligible for vaccination in India have received two doses. “Gratitude to our doctors, nurses and all those who worked to achieve this feat,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Twitter. More than 70 percent of adults have received at least one dose of vaccine, according to government figures. India is administering second doses 12 to 16 weeks after the first.

While other countries have struggled to secure enough doses to vaccinate their populations, India’s gigantic vaccination drive was made possible by domestic manufacturing capacity. The Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine maker, has supplied more than 80 percent of the doses administered in the country. The demand for vaccines in India after the devastating second wave was such that the Serum Institute fell short on its commitments to supply vaccines to poorer nations. But as India’s situation stabilizes, vaccine exports from India — seen as crucial to global efforts — have slowly resumed.

Vaccinating children

Government experts are finalising a list of comorbidities that will set the stage for making children in India eligible to take the COVID-19 vaccine, people familiar with the development said, adding that a paediatrician’s clearance could be required to take the anti-COVID shot. “Several top experts in the field are being consulted to see how best [COVID-19] vaccination among children can be introduced in the programme. People concerned are being thorough about it as it concerns children,” said a government official aware of the matter, requesting not to be named. “The guidelines on a list of specified comorbidities, and other procedural clarifications should be out soon.”

The COVID-19 vaccination drive for children is likely to be introduced next month in a phased manner. It could start with giving anti-COVID shots to those aged 12 and above, much like there was a phased approach with the country’s adult population, with children considered vulnerable to COVID-19 getting the first jabs. Zydus Healthcare’s COVID-19 vaccine, ZyCoV-D, which received emergency-use authorisation last month, has been tested in those aged 12 and above.

“The list of comorbidities will be specified as it was done in [the case of] adults. While age was a major criterion for adults, in the case of children, comorbid conditions are likely to be the deciding factor for eligibility. The specified condition may need confirmation from a certified doctor, and whether it’s okay to take the shot. The guidelines will clarify these things,” said the government official.

Health-related conditions that are likely to be included on the list are all types of cancers, congenital heart disease, chronic liver and kidney diseases, and lung-related ailments.

Children who have undergone an organ transplant will also be prioritised.


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