Rajat Sharma

Why mass vaccination drive is the only panacea for Covid pandemic

RRThe stage is now set for ramping up nationwide vaccination drive with the Centre saying there is no issue in granting indemnity to Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to be imported from the US. Manufacturers of these vaccines had sought the government’s approval for waivers like indemnity and post-approval local trials. The Drugs Controller General of India has said that foreign vaccines approved by other countries and the WHO do not require bridge trials in India. This will fast-track import of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to India.

On Wednesday, India reported 1,32,788 fresh Covid cases, 2,31,456 discharges and 3,207 deaths during past 24 hours. On Tuesday, 30 lakh Sputnik V doses from Russia landed in Hyderabad. Serum Institute of India has promised to deliver 10 crore Covishield doses in June. Bharat Biotech has also ramped up production of Covaxin doses. The nationwide daily one crore dose target has been set for the month of July, but I have certain doubts about whether people in rural and semi-urban areas will come forward to get the doses. Ground reports collected by our reporters from across the country indicate towards a certain sense of fear pervading in the minds of common people about vaccines.

In my prime time show ‘Aaj Ki Baat’ on Monday night, I had showed how villagers in Bihar, MP, UP and Maharashtra were saying on camera that they fear death if they are vaccinated. Some expressed fear of losing their virility if they get the dose. All these fears have no concrete basis whatsoever, but WhatsApp mills are churning out rumours by the minute. I asked our reporters to find out the source of the fake messages and advices being circulated on social media. They visited far-off villages and found that only two or three persons got such fake messages on their phones, and soon it spread among all villagers. Names, photos of doctors were pasted in those messages to give some dose of authenticity.

Our reporter visited Amrai village, 10 km from Lucknow, where not a single villager was ready to take the vaccine. Most of them said, they feared death if they were vaccinated. Most of them said they heard this from others, while two of them showed their phones which cited a news report saying more than 100 KGMC doctors were found Covid positive, even after taking the dose. There was no mention of any doctor dying after taking vaccine. The fact that most of these doctors later recovered from Covid was not circulated. Nobody told the villagers that the doctor could have faced death, had they not taken the vaccine.

In a village 10 km away from Bhopal, our reporter Anurag Amitabh met villagers who showed WhatsApp messages which bore the names, picturess and degrees of doctors from Delhi, Aurangabad, Nagpur and Mumbai, warning people above the age of 18 years, not to take vaccine, otherwise they would lose their virility. Females above age of 18 years were also warned they would never be able to give birth to babies if they took the vaccine. Our reporters traced two such ‘doctors’ who did not deny that they did not know about these messages. They merely said, their photos were used without their permission. On internet, we checked the antecedents of these five docs, and it was found that they had been launching campaign on social media against Covid vaccines, since long. Action must be taken against such doctors who are trying to misguide people on the issue of vaccination.

Another name being used on WhatsApp is that of Luc Montagnier, the French virologist who jointly won the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2008 for his discovery of HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). The message that is being wrongly attributed to Montagnier is that all those taking Covid vaccines will die in the next two years, is fake. Montagnier never made such a remark, though he had been publicly advocating against mass Covid vaccination. Montagnier’s theory, though contested, is that vaccines are driving the creation of mutants, and a process called ADE (antibody-dependant enhancement) is driving more serious infection among infected persons. Nowhere did Montagnier said that people who have taken Covid vaccine will die in the next two years. This remark has been added to create serious doubts in the minds of gullible villagers.

This rumours has spread to Delhi too. While arguing in front of our reporter, one sceptic mentioned the name of cardiologist Dr K K Agrawal, who, he said, died of Covid even after taking both doses. Nobody tried to tell him that even after taking both doses, it takes at least three months for anti-bodies to protect the human body.

On Tuesday night in ‘Aaj Ki Baat’ show, I spoke to Dr Randeep Guleria, director of AIIMS about vaccine hesitancy issue. Dr Guleria explained why vaccine doses are necessary to protect people’s lives. Vaccine doses will not do any harm to a human body, instead it will provide immunity, he said. There has been not a single case of death or impotency due to vaccination, Dr Guleria said. About the feared Third Wave of pandemic, he said, the wave may not come, if people across India practised Covid appropriate behaviour strictly. If more than half of India’s population gets vaccinated by this year end, it will be a boon for all, he said.

Here, I can cite one striking example. Serrana is a city with a population of 45,000 in Brazil. By March end this year, when daily death average surged past 3,000 across Brazil, with 4,05 lakh people dying throughout the country, Serrana was like an oasis amidst the desert of death. Only 15 per cent people in Brazil have taken a single vaccine shot, but, in Serrana, all the adults in the city had taken their vaccine shots. In January this year, while there were 706 confirmed Covid cases in the city, it has now declined to 235, because most of the adults have now been vaccinated. Fatalities have decreased by 95 per cent, while infections have decreased by 80 per cent. People in this city had taken the Chinese Sinovac vaccine.

Nearer home, in Delhi, where nearly 2 crore people live, 54 lakh people have already taken their first dose. Because of strict lockdown and mass vaccination, the largest hospital in Delhi, LNJP hospital today has more than 700 ICU beds lying vacant. On April 30, there was not a single bed available in this vast hospital. On April 19, 448 people died of Covid in Delhi, but on June 1, there were only 62 deaths. Positivity rate in Delhi today is less than one per cent.

These two examples are enough to convince people that infections and fatalities can be controlled only through mass vaccination drive. That is why, I have been repeatedly saying, please get yourself vaccinated when you are given the time slot.

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