Vaccinating priority groups should be the immediate target: IIPH Director

Study shows that at least 70% of the population need to be vaccinated if the ‘herd immunity’ for COVID-19 is to be achieved to break the transmission chain with efficacious vaccines that prevent infection. Given the level of vaccine hesitancy, this is a daunting task for the country. Therefore, at the moment, preventing death and severe COVID by vaccinating the priority groups should be the target, asserts Indian Institute of Public Health, Hyderabad (IIPH), Director G.V.S. Murthy on Sunday.

While the government had permitted Russian ‘Sputnik’ vaccine for emergency use, he expects more permissions in the offing and certainly bats for clearing the path for “effective proven vaccines that have undergone Phase 3 clinical trials in other countries and have validated efficacy”. This has to be considered for India due to the sheer population size, rapid transmission of COVID and the need to stockpile vaccines, he says.

In this second part of an exclusive interaction conducted recently (First part: “Virus surges will continue”), the Director of the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) founded institute, also stated that the ‘Behavioural’ or ‘Social’ vaccine of face masks, social distancing and hand or personal hygiene was still our “best bet” and this needs to be marketed effectively, “at least for the next few years”.

If all elderly people and people with co-morbidities, irrespective of age, are to be vaccinated, 200 million people would need 400 million doses within the next 8-10 weeks. If the entire population of Telangana, above the age of 20 years, were to be vaccinated, nearly 8 million doses will be required. “Looking at the logistics and rationale of vaccination, we have to target the important priority groups at the moment,” says Dr. Murthy.

Essential healthcare workers form the first category while the second is those who might experience severe harm from COVID-19 that necessitates admission to hospital, critical care and death like populations above 65 years, those with high risk health conditions and those in close contact with people at high risk of poor outcomes. Even those of 55 years and above could be considered for our country.

“Rest of the population is only the third priority, this is a globally accepted norm and India is no exception. Additional priority groups are like people with any chronic condition like diabetes, hypertension, cardiac conditions, renal conditions, irrespective of their age. The other group could be people with disabilities and their care givers,” he observed.

School teachers could be considered as the next priority since schooling is important for child development and for the poor, the mid-day meal supplement is essential for their nutrition. The Director also cautions that the currently available COVID vaccinations only “reduce the risk of severe disease and death”.

“All studies unequivocally show that the risk of severe disease and death is significantly higher among the older population and those with co-morbidities, compared to the other population groups. Therefore, the current phase of the vaccine should target these outcomes. Since available vaccines do not reduce transmission, these would not be very effective in control of COVID through a mass immunization drive,” he maintains.

With strained resources and logistical issues around testing after vaccination, public health needs would be best served by optimising resources to vaccinate the priority groups, testing of suspected COVID infections, contact tracing and better therapeutic agents being provided, adds Dr. Murthy.

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Printable version | May 11, 2021 6:46:31 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Hyderabad/vaccinating-priority-groups-should-be-the-immediate-target-iiph-director/article34353309.ece

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