By Dr Arun Mitra
The statement by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) that at present booster dose against COVID-19 vaccine is not a priority and administering two doses is the present priority goes along the line of World Health Organisation (WHO). Dr Balram Bhargav, director of the council has also said that there is no scientific evidence to support need for the booster dose. This assessment is based on the studies that antibody level alone is not the way to check the immunity because all kinds of immunity develops post vaccination, the cellular and mucosal etc. So the understanding that the immunity provided by the vaccination is short lasting may not be correct. But despite WHO’s view point some countries are already into giving booster dose to its citizens. The US government has decided to give third dose. The UK is giving the booster to the health workers.
Vaccines have given protection from the diseases and scientists around the globe need to be patted for their concerted effort in producing Vaccine against COVID-19 as an emergency. Vaccination has given some reprieve from what was a big scare one year ago. Vaccines have allayed fear reduced stress & strain, saved many lives and has helped in bringing back normal activities. The process has however not been easy. For the product to reach inoculation level after several rounds of scientific trials with assured safety is normally 7 to 8 years process. But this was accomplished in a few months period. Medical scientists have successfully reassured the society that people’s health is their utmost priority.
India too was in the forefront and successfully produced its own vaccine. With all efforts we have been able to give first dose to 56 per cent population that is 77 crore people and second dose to 29 per cent population ie 40 crore population with a total doses of 117 crore as on 22nd November 2021. China from where the disease was first reported has inoculated 126crore or 90 per cent people with first dose and 107 crore or 76 per cent population with second dose totaling 233 crore doses. Data from our south Asian neighbours shows that both doses have been given to 22 per cent in Pakistan, 26 per cent in Nepal, 20 per cent in Bangladesh and 62 per cent in Sri Lanka. The developed countries the U K, USA have vaccinated 68 per cent and 62 per cent population respectively with two doses. The picture in some of the least developed countries is highly grim with Ghana at 2.7 per cent, Somalia 3.6 per cent, Syria 4 per cent and Afghanistan at 8 per cent with both doses.
Since the big companies refused to share the technical know-how even with WHO, it was difficult for many developing countries to produce these vaccines. They were thus dependent on import. The problem was more with smaller countries with limited resources. That is how we find today that many developing countries are still lagging far behind in the vaccination of their population. These countries had to accept several clauses which would favour only the vaccine manufacturer. In a recently published article in the Journal of Postgraduate Medicine, Education and Research, Dr Samir Malhotra, Professor of Pharmacology Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER), Chandigarh has pointed that The COVID-19 scare forced many governments to enter into contracts with the companies developing vaccines. Many of these contracts had confidentiality clauses according to which the company was exempted “from any civil liability for serious side effects arising from the use of the vaccine, indefinitely”. “Purchaser hereby agrees to indemnify, defend and hold harmless [the company and] each of their affiliates from and against any and all suits, claims, actions, demands, losses, damages, liabilities, settlements, penalties, fines, costs and expenses caused by, arising out of, relating to, or resulting from the vaccine.” Not only that, and this is shocking, these countries should “put up sovereign assets as collateral to guarantee indemnity”. Such assets could include embassy buildings, cultural assets, etc.
He further points out that the claim of the pharma industry that they have to bear high cost in developing new drugs as a justification for such contracts is totally flawed because virtually 100 per cent of initial research leading to new drugs occurs with the support of public funding. A vaccine that requires a few dollars to manufacture brings in profits worth billions of dollars to the company.
In India whereas the vaccination programmes earlier have been free of cost to the recipients, this time the government allowed 25 per cent vaccines to be given on payment. Adar Poonawala, CEO of the Serum Institute of India had said that even at Rs.150/- per dose the company makes profit. But the government of India fixed the rate of vaccination at Covishield Rs.780/-, Covaxin Rs.1410/- and Sputinik V Rs.1145/- thus allowing the vaccine manufacturers super profit at the cost of human lives. Till date the government has not come out with data of number of people who purchased the vaccine.
There is need for controlling such super profits by few companies. The vaccine technology should be transparent so as to enable developing countries produce their own vaccines. Poor countries should be helped in the vaccination process through the UN agencies. India should rejuvenate the vaccine manufacturing public sector units so as to eliminate the profit clause and ensure equitable distribution of the vaccines. (IPA Service)