COVID vaccination update

India is facing a second wave of COVID-19. There is a lot of concern regarding this as we see a large number of cases every day. The good news is that we now have the vaccines that we were waiting for. The government has rolled out vaccines for the people, and people are taking them.  However, people continue to have doubts or misconceptions regarding these vaccines. Here we look at some of the common misconceptions regarding the vaccines, their safety and efficacy and who are eligible to take these vaccines.

Currently, there are two vaccines licensed for COVID vaccination and available in India. These are:

  1. Covishield® (AstraZeneca’s vaccine manufactured by Serum Institute of India)
  2. Covaxin® (manufactured by Bharat Biotech Limited).

Both vaccines are intramuscular injections given in 2 doses.  There is confusion regarding the time interval between doses. Earlier, the two doses of Covishield® vaccine were given 4 weeks apart, but recent studies show that the vaccine is much more effective when taken after a longer time interval, hence now the two doses of Covishield vaccine are to be taken four to eight weeks apart. For the two doses of Covaxin®, the advice is to take it four to six weeks apart. Complete immune response takes 2-3 weeks to develop after completing the entire vaccination schedule, i.e., after the second dose of COVISHIELD® and COVAXIN®.

We should keep in mind that the two vaccines available are not interchangeable; that is, one cannot take one dose of each; so it is crucial to receive the second dose of the same vaccine as the first one.

The Government of India decided to start vaccinations in January 2021. Selected groups of people were prioritised for vaccination depending on their risk levels. The first group to be vaccinated included healthcare and frontline workers. Post that, people over 60 years of age and people between 45 and 59 years of age with comorbid conditions could get the vaccine. From April 2021, all people above 45 years of age were eligible to receive the vaccination.  The vaccines have not been tested in children so far, so children cannot get the vaccines.

The vaccines are recommended for all. Only people with known drug allergies to the vaccine products are not eligible to take the vaccine. There were some concerns about whether people with diabetes or high blood pressure, or cardiac issues should take the vaccine- the answer is yes, they should take the vaccine!

We noticed many queries regarding whether the vaccines are safe; if they have a lot of side effects. Vaccines are introduced to the general population only after regulatory bodies have cleared them based on their safety and efficacy. To ensure that a vaccine is safe, large scale clinical trials with large sample sizes are conducted, and the vaccines were tested. Any adverse events, which usually occur in the first four to six weeks of administering a vaccine, are very closely monitored in all trial participants. Both Covishield and Covaxin vaccines were found to be safe with minimal side effects.

Then there are concerns about whether the two vaccines are as effective as the other vaccines available in the world. All across the world, all the COVID vaccines developed till now have been shown to prevent infection, prevent people from going into a severe state of the disease and prevent death, especially in older people with co-morbidities. The differences in sensitivity of the presented vaccines are technical and do not impact the above parameters differently.  The global benchmark for the efficacy of all vaccines has been set at 50-60%. Both vaccines have shown efficacy rates much higher than this.

Needless to say, please go ahead and get vaccinated as soon as you are eligible! If you or a family member are eligible for vaccination and have any doubts regarding the vaccine, please speak to your doctor.

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