COVID-19 vaccine: How well does India’s adverse reaction tracking system work? | In Focus podcast

Gagandeep Kang speaks to us on India’s system of reporting adverse effects of immunisation, and if the government should take responsibility.

Updated - December 20, 2022 06:00 pm IST

Published - December 20, 2022 04:07 pm IST

Last month, the Central government, in an affidavit to the Supreme Court, said that it cannot be held liable to pay compensation for deaths caused by adverse reactions to the COVID-19 vaccine.

The affidavit was filed in a case in response to a petition filed by the parents of two young women, who allegedly died due to adverse reactions following their taking the COVID-19 vaccine.

The Centre also said that taking the COVID-19 vaccine was purely voluntary and that the government had made all the relevant information about the vaccines freely available in the public domain.

AstraZeneca’s vaccine or Covishield as it is known in India, which was the vaccine largely used in the country’s immunisation drive, is reported to be linked to a rare blood clotting condition, known as TTS – the United Kingdom in fact offers alternative vaccines to healthy adults under the age of 40. 

The Centre said that a total of 26 TTS cases were reported, of which 14 recovered and 12 died.

Other countries offer compensations to those who are injured following a vaccination: during the COVID-19 vaccinations, the World Health Oganisation introduced a “no fault compensation programme” as part of its Covax initiative.

As of last month, India has administered nearly 220 crore doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, since the vaccination drive began in January 2021. As per the Centre’s affidavit, a total 92,114 cases of adverse events following immunisation (AEFIs) have been reported in this period, which amounts to 0.0042% in terms of adverse events against the number of doses given. Of these, 89,332 have been “minor” cases while only 2,782 cases or 0.00013% are serious and severe.

But how robust is India’s system of reporting adverse events following immunisation? How easy or difficult is it for patients to report an adverse event, and do most people know how to do so? How much communication was there with regard to possible effects of taking vaccines? And while vaccine injuries are rare, and vaccines are necessary for public health initiatives, what happens to families of those who fall sick or lose their lives following a vaccination? Should the government, ultimately, take responsibility?

Guest: Gagandeep Kang, Professor, The Wellcome Trust Research Laboratory, Division of Gastrointestinal Sciences, Christian Medical College, Vellore

Host: Zubeda Hamid

Edited by Sharmada Venkatasubramanian.

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