Bengaluru doctors are not yet caught in a dilemma about which of the two approved vaccines to take.
Rajendra Cholan P, special commissioner, health, BBMP, says Bengaluru has only received Covishield stocks for the first phase of vaccination. A massive nationwide vaccination campaign kicked off on January 16, with India choosing to go with two brands: Covishield from Astra-Zeneca, popularly known as the Oxford vaccine, and Covaxin, developed and produced by Bharat Biotech. The government has given emergency approval for Covaxin, but apprehensions are high as it is yet to complete Phase 3 clinical trials. “We may get doses from Bharat Biotech in the next phase. We don’t know,” Cholan says.
About 1.82 lakh healthcare workers in Bengaluru are getting shots in the first vaccination phase.
Doctors in at least two hospitals, in Delhi and Bhopal, are asking for Covishield, but the government says it will not allow anyone the choice. Dr Satyanarayana Mysore, head of pulmonology dept and lung transplant physician, Manipal Hospital, says about 70 per cent of his hospital staff have already been vaccinated.
Dr Swati Rajagopal, consultant, infectious disease, Aster CMI, says it is important for healthcare professionals to be convinced about a vaccine before people feel confident about it. Safety and efficacy information from the earlier phases of Covaxin clinical trials needs to be published. “Data should be available on public domains for people to make informed choices,” she says.
What explains the fears?
Many are concerned that the Bharat Biotech vaccine, Covaxin, is being deployed prematurely. It has yet to clear phase three clinical trials, and efficacy data isn’t expected until March.
Resident doctors at the Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, Delhi, are requesting to be vaccinated with Covishield and not Covaxin. Dwaipayan Banerjee, associate professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says people should wait before taking Covaxin. The standard practice is four phases of clinical trials to establish safety and efficacy.
Even in case of emergencies such as the HIV-AIDS vaccine, trials were never bypassed, and “...to encourage the production and purchase of the Bharat Biotech vaccine over the Oxford vaccine is simply nationalist jingoism that is playing with the lives of millions,” he tweeted. Dr Gopal Dabade of the All India Drug Action Network says that even Russia and China launched their vaccines only after clearing three stages of the clinical tests. “Hence we do not hear about any panic or doubt among the masses from these countries,” he says. He has a word of caution about Covishield too. “The immune system of people in England is different from that of people in India,” he says.
Story so far
In Norway, 23 people died days after taking the vaccine. 13 of those deaths are said to be related to “side effects” of taking the Pfizer vaccine. All affected were in nursing homes and above 80. In India, 580 people developed adverse event following immunisation (AEFI). Seven required hospitalisation. Two died, but their deaths are said to be caused by non-Covid complications. The first death was reported from Uttar Pradesh. Mahipal Singh, 46, a ward boy at a government hospital, had received the vaccine shot 24 hours before. The second casualty was a 43-year-old man in Bellary. The government said he had died of cardio-pulmonary failure. On Monday, Bharat Biotech uploaded a statement on their website. It said that those with a history of allergy, fever, bleeding disorders, compromised immunity, among other conditions are advised against taking the vaccine. Following this, the Organised Medicine Academic Guild urged the Centre to withdraw Covaxin for the time being.