Concerns over the efficacy and safety of Covid-19 vaccines continue to mount in the country, with even healthcare professionals ot coming forward voluntarily in the numbers as expected to take the shot.
When the vaccination drive started on January 16, according to the government data, over 2 lakh healthcare workers took the vaccine. However, after five days of vaccination drive, the number hovers around 8 lakhs.
At this rate, it will take almost a year to vaccinate 3 crore healthcare workers in the first phase because as per the government plan, only four days in a week has been designated for the vaccination process.
At a recent press conference, Dr VK Paul, Member, NITI Aayog made a humble appeal repeatedly to health workers to come forward.
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So why is vaccine hesitancy quite high in India? Outlook spoke to a lot of doctors who say that until politicians and parliamentarians come forward and the government releases the data on the safety and efficacy of Covaxin, hesitancy will continue to plague the vaccination drive.
AIIMS Resident Doctors Association president Adarsh Pratap Singh says that in other countries politicians and head of states have taken the vaccine to instil confidence among people.
“Unfortunately, I haven’t heard of any politician in India be it the PM, President, Health Minister or any parliamentarian have come forward for this. Why aren’t they taking the vaccine?” He adds that it will go a long way in inspiring the general public about its safety and efficacy.
Doctors say that when the US President-elect Joe Biden, former Vice President Mike Pence, US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, UAE Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum and many others can take the shot, “why our politicians are hesitant?” Singh questioned.
Former RDA president of Lok Nayak Jai Prakash hospital Dr Parv Mittal says, “The nation’s elected representatives taking the jab would go a long way in allaying vaccine fears amongst the country’s frontline workers especially doctors.”
Dr Rahul Bhargava from Fortis Hospital, Gurugram says, “Our Prime Minister is a charismatic leader. We follow his advice in letter and spirit. I believe if he takes the vaccine, the hesitancy will go away among all section of society.”
“Besides, if you see most of the parliamentarians are above 50. They should take the vaccine on priority as we need parliament to function ahead of important issues like budget etc,” Bhargava adds.
Along with supporting this idea, many doctors also questions the unavailability of clinical trial data of Covaxin in the public domain.
AIIMS RDA ex-general secretary Srinivas Rajkumar blames the Health Ministry and ICMR for coming out with inconsistent facts in the past on several issues related to treatment and containment of the infection.
“The ICMR and the Health Ministry have an inconsistent approach towards many issues in the past including the vaccination process and this has dented their credibility. Now the only way forward is to make data public and enable informed decision making,” Srinivas said.
RDA vice-president of Ram Manohar Lohiya hospital Nirmalya Mohapatra says, “At this time of vaccination, the country is looking up to doctors, doctors are the celebrities."
He adds, “A stellar turnout of the medical fraternity will set the pace of the subsequent phases of the vaccination drive. Clearing the doubts of the medical fraternity, and not just brushing our genuine concerns under the carpet, as being victims of rumours will help a lot of healthcare workers to come out of the pehle aap mode, that they are right now.”