Covid-19: Vaccine will reach most only in late '21

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MUMBAI: This could bust the bubble for people who expect they would get the Covid-19 shot by the year-end, or even in the first quarter of 2021. Mass immunization under which large sets of the country’s general population (excluding high-risk vulnerable groups) will be able to access the vaccine — in all likelihood — only in the second half of 2021. But for the country’s entire population of 1.3 bn to get vaccinated through the government programme could take a minimum of 18 to 24 months, experts told TOI, if the first round of immunisation begins by March/April, with a few doses.
This is assuming that there will be an approved vaccine in the market by first quarter 2021 in India as current indications suggest, and with which, most experts concur. Interestingly, the launch dates of vaccines are being pushed back frequently by the government.
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“Depending on when a safe and effective vaccine would be easily available, I expect it would take a year for half of India’s population to get vaccinated”, K Srinath Reddy president Public Health Foundation of India said, adding if the regulatory permissions are obtained, the priority will be for essential services and persons at high risk. The general public would be receiving only six to eight months after the first shot of the legally cleared vaccine is administered”.
The first set of vaccines will be allocated to the most vulnerable population – healthcare workers, people over 65 years and essential sector workers (defense, rail/road/air transport), and those from the economically-weaker section.
“With two doses of vaccine to be administered, it will be a formidable challenge on the delivery front. It will also need a new policy framework as well as additional manpower”, NK Ganguly, former DG Indian Council of Medical Research said.
At present, Phase 2 trials of two vaccines — Zydus Cadila and Bharat Biotech’s are underway, while the third, Serum Institute will soon restart Phase 3 trials.
Significantly, for a developing country like India the challenges include a weak healthcare system, upstream issues of financing, procurement and distribution, and most importantly, availability of trained manpower to administer the vaccine shot.
One of the reasons which could hinder the progress is believed to be India’s limited experience of adult vaccination programmes. “The polio eradication campaign in 2011 and recent Intensified Indradhanush Mission (IMI) are examples of large-scale campaigns, but the scale there was one-third of what the Covid-19 vaccine implementation programme demands” a Bernstein analysis said.
Sporadic immunisation for adults does occur with tetanus, pneumococcal, influenza and hepatitis vaccines, as also yellow fever vaccine for some international travellers, but even the oral cholera vaccine has not been used for large-scale immunisation.

The government channel will have the first access to the vaccines, with the private sector following after three months, once a robust monitoring mechanism has been established, experts added.
The challenge of large-scale immunization is not lost on the government. The National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for Covid-19 is drawing up a strategy to address issues like vaccine cost, equity, cold-chain requirements, production timelines.
“The completion of Phase III studies is essential covering different races as well as ethnic groups, including those with co-morbidities, hence more safety results are available. The vaccine should be 50% efficacious”, Ganguly added.
It may be noted Serum’s chief executive Adar Poonawalla said in an interview to FT on September 14 that it could take four to five years for the entire global population to get the vaccine.
Watch Coronavirus vaccine shots will reach most only in late 2021: Experts


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