By Shilpi Jain
India has recently surpassed Brazil as the country with the second-highest number of confirmed Covid-19 cases. With a staggering 200,000 plus cases reported yesterday, the virus is sparing no one – whether young or old, vaccinated or not vaccinated. So, will the arrival of imported vaccines change anything? Going by the history of pandemics, once they emerge, they rarely leave. With the exception of smallpox – the only human disease eradicated with vaccination – virtually every disease pathogen is still with us albeit now as an endemic. Take for instance, the deadly Plague of 14th century caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis. Countless local outbreaks still surface and constantly remind us of the persistent nature of pathogens.
Having said this, one cannot discount the fact that more vaccine options in the current health crisis will help India vaccinate more and help reach closer to the target of 250 million by July 2021. As per WHO, vaccines prevented at least 10 million deaths between 2010 and 2015, and millions were protected from illness. But, with countries such as US pausing vaccines like Johnson & Johnson, Denmark postponing decision on Astra Zeneca after reports of rare clotting, dealing with apprehensions in India may not be easy. Besides, with us flip-flopping on the vaccine approvals (Pfizer), it may indicate a desperate attempt on our part to salvage the situation. With India ready to import Sputnik V, one cannot discount the fact that it may take several months by the time large volumes from various Sputnik vaccine makers start rolling out in the country. And, by then possibly more Made in India vaccine options could be available. Therefore, it brings us back to the question – why import?
Is it to give more choice to the people and go for the proven vaccination for prevention approach; tide over the current vaccine availability hurdle or take off the vaccine production pressure from Serum Institute of India and Bharat Bio Tech? Reasons could be any but what is important is, with most vaccines having a near 90% efficacy rate, it may be a good idea to periodically assess – will the imported vaccines be affordable, will storage be an issue, will they suit the diverse climatic conditions within the country to ensure the desired results.
With India going into a reverse gear from being a mass vaccine exporter to becoming an importer, it is reason enough to worry. Vaccination campaigns across the world may be affected. The current crisis has put our health infrastructure in ICU but, as an optimist I hope history is proved wrong and the coronavirus that caused Covid-19 can be completely eradicated.
(The author is Communication Specialist, IPE Global (international development consulting firm). The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of IPE Global and Financial Express Online.)