COVID vaccine: Public perception needs to change
Dr Shekhar Biswas
Since the launch of COVID-19 vaccine is still underway, with conclusions of the clinical trials, a probable list of people being administered with the vaccine has included the frontline workers, healthcare workers, senior citizens and people with co-morbidities since they are at an increased risk of contracting the illness or develop severe consequences. In a recent notification, the Government has also provided a list of potential people to be vaccinated at priority. The government has included all those aged above 45 years to be eligible for vaccination.
But is the public completely convinced regarding the safety and efficacy of the new vaccine, the perception has varied answers from person to person. As everyone is eyeing on data, research articles on COVID and its vaccines, the public is actually in a confused mode due to the various pros and cons of different vaccines, which are under pipeline. But it is a fact for the masses to understand that numerous scientists working on them and as we know about the efficacy and side effects, lets us keep our faith on government bodies and institutions like ICMR /CSIR and DGCI.
Even though there have not been any remarkable side-effects of the COVID vaccines during the trial phase, yet the public fear its potent impact both in the short as well as long term. It is time for us to show faith in the Government bodies so that they take a stand and decide. Until then we should not panic or get misguided listening to the anti-vaccine lobby, but trust the scientific bodies to take proper decision, which will be in best interest of public.
COVID Vaccine – safety and efficacy
Every vaccine is a biological product and it has an efficacy and side effects’ profile, so even the age-old vaccines like BCG / DPT /FLU or so on can cause some side effects which are common and called as minor side effects like fever, pain in the injection site or sometime nausea and so on. Sometimes these common vaccines can have serious side effects like Anaphylaxis / seizures / and GBS which are known AEFI (ADVERSE EVENTS FOLLOWING IMMUNIZATION) but again they are rare.
Similarly studies on COVID vaccines are in nascent stage so there may some short-term common side effects like fever, pain, allergic reactions but commenting on long term effects will require more time. Since COVID vaccine being just at horizon are being tested in general population, old age and those with comorbidities. As luckily COVID has not been fatal or morbid for children, so till now vaccines have not been tested below 16 yrs.
On the other hand, another vulnerable group remains – women planning pregnancy and lactating mothers. Even though the risk among these women for contracting illness due to COVID is lesser compared to other probable’s. But one of the major factors is that no such clinical trials have been conducted for pregnant women and hence as of now no such evident data is available on the safety and efficacy of use any amount of dose.
In my opinion, the use of vaccine as a precautionary approach among the pregnant women should be avoided until safe recommendations are found.
Children will not be given this vaccine as per plan but as further test are done in near future, we may be giving them to children too.
The future aspects
At present there is no government notification to include children in COVID vaccination as Govt has prioritised vaccination as per high risk groups including healthcare workers, Police and para-military forces, adults with comorbidities like Heart Disease/ hypertension/ Obesity/ Renal disease/ diabetes, and then the general population.
We have discussed side effects earlier but co administration of COVID vaccination with other general vaccination has not been studied. Until COVID vaccination is a norm in near future, all HCWs, people with comorbidities and elderly more than 55 years should get annual flu vaccination and Pneumococcal vaccination. That’s tried and tested and will help in major respiratory illnesses.
(Dr Shekhar Biswas is a Pediatrician & Director, Kindergarten Clinic, New Delhi)