Amidst the growing surge in Corona cases, Maharashtra has come under a ‘lockdown’ like condition from today.
Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray announced stringent restrictions in the state for 15 days starting 8 pm on April 14. As part of the new curbs, no one — except those engaged in essential services and those exempted will be allowed to move in public places. Only shops with essentials will be allowed to remain open.
Public transport will operate but with restrictions, mostly for people engaged in essential services. Shooting for films, serials and advertisements will remain closed, and only 25 people will be allowed at marriages.
While refraining from using the word lockdown and terming it as junta curfew, Thackeray unveiled a one-time Rs 5,476 crore financial package for 7.8 crore people in Maharashtra, mostly daily wage earners, construction workers, tribals, street vendors, families below the poverty line, senior citizens and widows.
On Tuesday, Maharashtra recorded 60,212 cases, 32% of India’s total of 185,287. It also saw 281 deaths.
Besides Maharashtra, some other states have also enforced lockdown to check the Covid spread.
But is lockdown the only solution to check the pandemic?
Experts and policymakers have been maintaining that prevention and not lockdown is the solution for arresting the spread of the pandemic. Many countries like the United Kingdom, China have been enforcing lockdowns when the numbers increase.
India reported a record single-day rise of 1,84,372 new coronavirus infections pushing the total tally of cases to 1,38,73,825, while the active cases surpassed the 13-lakh mark, according to the Union health ministry data updated on Wednesday. The death toll increased to 1,72,085 with 1,027 daily new fatalities, the highest since October 18, 2020.
The second wave of the pandemic is more infectious and is spreading at a faster rate. The fatalities in the second wave are more and the growth trajectory is steeper than what it was in the first wave. Like the first wave, the second season of the pandemic not spread uniformly but what is more concerning is that the peak has not been reached as yet.
It will take some time before the pandemic is tamed. The main lesson learned from the pandemic is that the country should be always prepared for any kind of health emergency. For this, there is a need to spruce the infrastructure of the health ecosystem.
India’s immunization programme is geared primarily to provide childhood vaccinations. The vaccination drive for COVID has therefore been mired with some hiccups.
India started its vaccination drive on 16 January 2021 and since then close to 11 crores doses of vaccines have been given.
Vaccine development in India has done reasonably well especially on the technology transfer needed for making the vaccines, with viral vectors and protein-based vaccines. India has two vaccines in use — Serum Institute of India’s Covishield, based on AstraZeneca-Oxford University technology, and Bharat Biotech’s indigenously developed Covaxin.
The country’s drugs regulator, Drugs Controller General of India has also granted emergency use authorisation (EUA) to Sputnik V, the Covid-19 vaccine developed by Russia’s Gamaleya Institute. The vaccine will be marketed in India by Dr Reddy’s Laboratories
The approval of the vaccine in Russia along with its conditions/restrictions were reviewed and it was noted that the safety and immunogenicity data presented by the firm from the Indian study is comparable with that of the Phase III clinical trial interim data from Russia.
The vaccine is meant for active immunization to prevent COVID-19 disease in individuals of ≥ 18 years of age. It should be administered intramuscularly in two doses of 0.5 ml each with an interval of 21 days. (Day 0: Component I & Day 21: Component II). The vaccine has to be stored at -18°C and comprises of two components I and II, which are not interchangeable.
In another development to fast-track the vaccination drive, the government has also enabled faster access to foreign-made vaccines by doing away with bridging trial studies prior to grant of emergency authorisation for shots approved by recognised regulators like the US FDA. The changes in regulatory approvals are intended to increase the availability of vaccines amid a steep second wave of the infection
This decision will facilitate quicker access to such foreign vaccines by India and would encourage imports including import of bulk drug material, optimal utilisation of domestic fill and finish capacity, etc., which will in turn provide a fillip to vaccine manufacturing capacity and total vaccine availability for domestic (use).
This was a much need decision amidst the numerous reports of vaccine deficiency in some states. Though India was the fastest among all countries to vaccine 100 million people, there have been concerns about a shortage of vaccines. The Center has blatantly denied any shortage but blamed it on distribution. Both the Center and the states should refrain from blame game and move forward together.
The vaccination drive in India has been robust but the numbers so far are just a small percentage of the mammoth population. For accelerating the drive there is a need to saturate the districts that have a high number of cases. Preventive measures should be enforced in the adjoining districts that have a potential for the epidemic. But more importantly, both the vaccine production and distribution should be scaled up.
Experts have maintained that vaccination was the only way to tackle the pandemic but vaccine hesitancy caused by a lack of transparency in the approvals has been a big challenge. Dealing with vaccine hesitancy is all about the right communication at the right time to the right people. Better communication strategies should be mapped for erasing the apprehensions and doubts.
There has to be tailormade messages that inform and address the fundamental apprehensions about the vaccine. The objective should be to earn the confidence of people through empowering them with credible information that counters the widespread misinformation.
The process of regulatory approvals should be seen to be independent and transparent. While the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation in India (NTAGI) was envisioned as an independent, advisory body, the decisions to accept or reject its recommendations can be based on the opinion of the government agencies that are involved. A lesson for future pandemics is that the process of vaccine approval should be more transparent. There should always be space for emergency use authorizations under appropriate circumstances but the public should be convinced that no political element has entered into these decisions.
The government should map a vaccine strategy that covers various
Aspects from production to storage to distribution to even an open market supply.
The objective should be –availability of vaccines for all.
—Vanita Srivastava is an independent health and science journalist and is currently working as a Senior Project Scientist at IIT Delhi. The views expressed are personal.
Read her columns here