Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said on Sunday that his Ministry will soon roll out the FELUDA paper strip test for SARS-CoV-2 diagnosis . This has been developed by CSIR-IGIB and has been approved by the Drug Controller General of India for a commercial launch. He added that the test showed 96% sensitivity and 98% specificity.
“This compares favourably to the ICMR’s current acceptation criteria of RT-PCR Kit of at least 95% sensitivity and at least 99% specificity,” Dr. Vardhan said, adding however, that “an exact date on the availability cannot be specified yet”.
Speaking about COVID-19 vaccine in his weekly social media interaction Sunday Samvaad, the Minister said it is anticipated that supplies would initially be available in limited quantities.
“In a huge country like India, it is critical to prioritise vaccine delivery based on various factors such as risk of exposure, co-morbidity among various population groups, the mortality rate among COVID cases ...,” he said.
The Minister added that India is looking at the availability of several different types of vaccines, of which some may be suitable for a particular age group while others may not be.
Categorically denying rumours of the government prioritising young and working-class for the vaccine for economic reasons, Dr. Vardhan said, “The prioritisation of groups for COVID-19 vaccine shall be based on two key considerations: Occupational hazard and risk of exposure to infection, and the risk of developing severe disease and increased mortality.”
On the issue of emergency-use authorisation of vaccines, the Minister said the issue is being deliberated at present and “adequate safety and efficacy data is required for approval... Further course of action will depend on the data generated.”
He informed that the COVID-19 vaccines currently in trial in India are 2-dose and 3-dose vaccines. Vaccine by Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech require 2 doses while the Cadila Healthcare vaccine requires 3 doses. For other vaccines in pre-clinical stages, the dosing is being tested, he stated.
On the need to include other novel candidates as COVID vaccine, Dr. Vardhan said, “Considering the large population size of India, one vaccine or vaccine manufacturer will not be able to fulfil the requirements of vaccinating the whole country. Therefore, we are open to assessing the feasibility of introducing several COVID-19 vaccines in the country as per their availability for the Indian population.”
On re-infection, the Minister said though there are sporadic reports of re-infection surfacing in various States, careful analysis of the ICMR database reveals that many of these cases have actually been mis-classified as re-infections.
He added that it is very important to differentiate mislabelled re-infection from actual re-infection. “Actual re-infection would mean a fully recovered person getting infected by a freshly introduced virus in his/her body, belonging to the same or different strain. ICMR is commissioning a study to understand the true burden of re-infected cases. Results will be shared in a couple of weeks,” he said.
Dr. Vardhan noted that the Central Government has so far, in the first phase, released ₹3,000 crore to States and UTs to battle the pandemic.
“Almost all, except three States/UTs, have utilised the complete grant given to them: Maharashtra has only used 42.5% of the grant followed by Chandigarh at 47.8% and Delhi at 75.4%,” he said.
Responding to criticism surrounding the efficacy of AYUSH formulations in the treatment of COVID-19, Dr. Vardhan said, “Guduchi, Ashwagandha, Guduchi & Pippali combination and AYUSH 64 have a substantial number of studies which prove their immunomodulatory [enhancing immune], anti-viral, antipyretic [fever reducing] and anti-inflammatory properties. These interventions have also shown a good binding affinity with COVID-19 virus in in-silico studies.”
He further said scientific studies have been initiated with the aforesaid remedies to assess their impact in the prophylaxis, secondary prevention and management of COVID-19 cases on the recommendations of the Interdisciplinary Task Force set up by the government.
Speaking about the benefits of the Ayurvedic formulation chyawanprash, Dr. Vardhan said the information available through clinical studies have shown that individuals who consume chyawanprash regularly for a definite period of time show improvement in overall health status and immunity and while sugar is an essential component, customers can opt for sugar-free versions in the market.