COVID-19 cases in India are steadily coming down while the caseload of infection in many parts of the world is experiencing a second or even a third peak, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said on Thursday asserting the government “recognised the threat early and pursued a scientific evidence-based approach”.
He made these remarks at a virtual event of Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI) and UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR).
The theme of the event was “Build Back Better: building resilient health infrastructure and supply chains”, a health ministry statement said.
Speaking on the COVID trajectory in India, Vardhan said, “It has been almost one year since the outbreak of COVID-19. While the caseload infection in many parts of the world is decreasing, many others are experiencing a second or even a third peak. Fortunately, in India, the cases are steadily coming down. We recognised the threat early and pursued a scientific evidence based approach.”
Highlighting the steps taken by India to handle the unprecedented humanitarian crisis, he stated, “Our first step was to expand our present capacities swiftly, whether it was for testing, PPE production, or hospital beds. We looked at the problem in greater granularity and scaled up at an incredible pace.”
“We also repurposed our capacities from multiple research disciplines across a wide range of public and private institutions. We repurposed defence research capacities for quickly erecting hospitals with enhanced capacity. From being an importer of PPEs before the pandemic, India is now a net exporter of PPEs. We scaled up our testing capacity from a few hundred tests per day to a million tests per day. The nimbleness that the Indian research institutions have shown needs to be not only preserved but also encouraged,” he was quoted as saying in the statement.
Vardhan also detailed on how effective communication strategy has been a cornerstone of the approach.
“We have used every possible means to mobilise everyone. The prime minister himself has led this effort and addressed the citizens directly. He has also emphasised the spirit of cooperative federalism, wherein the state and central governments worked hand in hand at each stage,” he said.
Emphasising upon the multipronged approach to combat COVID, the minister said, “Apart from this, we recognised early that while the health sector has to be at the forefront of combating COVID-19, it requires involvement of all of the government functions – disaster management, industry, civil aviation, shipping, pharmaceuticals, and environment and so on. We innovated early on to establish an institutional platform in the form of ’empowered groups’ to bring together these multi-sectoral functions in a cohesive manner. ”
He also commented, “We made innovative use of a range of digital technologies to track, monitor and control the disease. In a country like India – with a large digital divide – we had to ensure that we use a judicious mix of different technologies so that no one is left behind.”
Vardhan said, “I believe that some of the good practices that have been developed in many countries of the world during the pandemic need to be institutionalised. We do not need to reinvent these in the future. At the same time, we have to think about how we could have done this better. We need a deeper conversation about what ‘building back better’ in the context of public health infrastructure would mean!”
Vaccination for COVID-19 will be voluntary: Health Ministry
Getting vaccinated for COVID-19 will be voluntary, the Union Health Ministry has said while underlining that the vaccine introduced in India will be as effective as any vaccine developed by other countries.
The ministry further stated that it was advisable to receive a complete schedule of the anti-coronavirus vaccine irrespective of past history of infection with COVID-19 as this will help in developing a strong immune response against the disease.
It also said that protective level of antibodies generally develop two weeks after receiving the second dose.
The ministry listed a series of frequently asked questions (FAQs) on COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday night and responded to questions like if taking a vaccine was mandatory, how long does it take for the antibodies to develop and if it was necessary for a COVID recovered person to take the vaccine.
“Vaccination for COVID-19 is voluntary. However, it is advisable to receive the complete schedule of the vaccine for protecting one-self against this disease and also to limit the spread of this disease to the close contacts including family members, friends, relatives and co-workers,” the ministry said in response to a question on if it is mandatory to take the shot.
The ministry said that vaccine trials are under different stages of finalisation.
The government is geared to launch a vaccine for COVID-19 soon, it said.
Six vaccines- one developed by Bharat Biotech in collaboration with ICMR, second one developed by Zydus Cadila, third one by Gennova, Oxford vaccine, trial of which is conducted by Serum Institute of India, Sputnik V vaccine which is being manufactured by Dr Reddy’s Lab, Hyderabad, in collaboration with Russia’s Gamaleya National Centre and the sixth one manufactured by Biological E Ltd, Hyderabad, in collaboration with MIT, USA are undergoing clinical trials in India.
On whether a vaccine will be safe as it is being tested and introduced in a short span of time and what can be the possible side-effects, the ministry said vaccines will be introduced in the country only after the regulatory bodies clear it based on its safety and efficacy.
“COVID-19 vaccine will be introduced only when the safety is proven. As is true for other vaccines, the common side effects in some individuals could be mild fever, pain, etc. at the site of injection,” the ministry said in the FAQs.
It said states have been asked to start making arrangements to deal with any vaccine-related side-effects as one of the measures towards safe vaccine delivery.
Two doses of vaccine, 28 days apart, need to be taken by an individual to complete the vaccination schedule, it stated.
The ministry said anyone taking medicines for illnesses like cancer, diabetes, hypertension etc, can take the COVID-19 vaccine as persons with one or more of these comorbid conditions are considered high-risk category and they need to get vaccination.
In response to a question on whether the vaccine will be given to everyone simultaneously, the ministry said that based on the potential availability of vaccines, the government has selected priority groups to be vaccinated as they are at higher risk.
In the initial phase, COVID 19 vaccine will be provided to the priority group- health care and front-line workers.
The 50 plus age group may also begin early based on vaccine availability.
The eligible beneficiaries will be informed through their registered mobile number regarding the health facility where the vaccination will be provided and the scheduled time.
This will be done to avoid any inconvenience in registration and vaccination of beneficiaries, the ministry said in the FAQs.
On why healthcare providers and frontline workers are being chosen for receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, the ministry said the government has prioritised the most at risk/high risk groups which will get the vaccine first.