Coronavirus | Vaccine literacy key to creating public trust, say experts

A health worker checking a rapid kit to test for COVID-19 in Hyderabad on Sunday.   | Photo Credit: AP

With a COVID-19 vaccine now seemingly just round the corner in India, vaccine literacy, and not publicity blitz about emergence of one or more vaccines, is essential to build public trust in the vaccine, say health experts. They add that this should be supplemented with aggressive testing and tracing strategies until public trust on a vaccine is sufficiently built to keep a steady check on the infection numbers and to test the efficacy of vaccines.

“Vaccine literacy is an important aspect in vaccine roll out which often does not get the attention it deserves. Before a new vaccine is introduced it is absolutely essential to build the confidence of people which is only possible by openness and transparency in sharing critical data,” J.V.R. Prasada Rao, former Health Secretary, told The Hindu.

He added that it is essential to engage civil society organisations, which enjoy the confidence of the public, in a dialogue, sharing the data with them and asking them to disseminate to the people at large.

More sustainable

Explaining that this could be a slower process, Mr. Rao said: “But this will be more sustainable than a publicity blitz about emergence of one or more vaccines.”

Seconding this, N.K. Ganguly, former Director General, Indian Council of Medical Research, said this could be done in three ways — by maintaining absolute transparency in trial data results and adverse events, rigorous surveillance through smart testing and tracing strategies as they form the bedrock for a vaccination campaign and finally by ensuring that the Data and Safety Monitoring Board (DSMB) and the regulator should be composed of independent persons with significant technical experience having no relation to the vaccine company or anyone who can influence.

Speaking about how the interim data (currently submitted by several proposed vaccine candidates) stand alongside final data, Dr. Ganguly said that while receiving authorisation for use of vaccine was a long-drawn process which required follow-up data of six months after Phase III trials for emergency authorisation, this condition was relaxed by requiring data of two months which was first decoded by an independent body — the DSMB — and then presented to the regulator for examination.

“Interim data can be relied on if there is a sense of urgency and if the data are thoroughly decoded then scrutinised by the regulator. In the case of both Bharat Biotech and SII, this data is either lacking or severely limited and it is reassuring to see that the regulator has stood its ground and not rushed into granting authorisation,” he said.

Adding that both SII and Bharat Biotech seem to have applied for the EUA clearance (in India) a bit prematurely, Balganesh T S, president, GangaGen Biotechnologies, said: “Since this vaccine comes at a time when the circumstances are very strained we are forced to be working at a risk versus benefit umbrella.”

Stating that these proposed vaccines may not protect from contracting the virus, nor from spreading the disease, Virander Singh Chauhan, emeritus professor at the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, explains that COVID-19 vaccine aims to act as protector against severe disease, which leads to hospitalisation.

“These vaccines may reduce the viral load in case vaccinated people are infected. At this stage, it is not clear as to how long the immune responses induced by vaccination will last, and it can only be determined with more time and monitoring data. This is why it is essential to continue to test and trace effectively, and to continue social distancing, masking, and to follow other preventative methods, even [and especially when] the vaccine is rolled out,” he cautions.

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Printable version | Mar 6, 2021 11:31:11 AM |

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