The Covaxin conundrum

The controversies surrounding Covaxin, the Covid-19 vaccination that hasn’t completed all safety trials, has been resonating in the state for a while.

Published: 16th February 2021 06:37 AM  |   Last Updated: 16th February 2021 06:37 AM   |  A+A-

A health official shows Covaxin dose.

A health official shows Covaxin dose. (File Photo | Shekhar Yadav, EPS)

Express News Service

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: District health authorities have landed in a fix after a large number of frontline workers started boycotting vaccination drive. This may be a result of mounting apprehensions surrounding Covaxin, the Covid-19 vaccine which hasn’t completed third phase trials  

The controversies surrounding Covaxin, the Covid-19 vaccination that hasn’t completed all safety trials, has been resonating in the state for a while. The health department had raised concerns regarding its efficacy and informed the Centre that Kerala prefers Covishield over Covaxin. According to authorities, the negative media reports and social media campaigns have created more apprehensions against the vaccine among frontline workers. On Thursday, the state government introduced Covaxin for the first time in the state among front line workers. A total of 18,213 frontline workers have registered for the phase II of the vaccination from the district. 

According to officials of the District Medical Office (DMO), a large section of officials from the revenue  and police departments refused to cooperate with the vaccination drive. On Friday, the DMO organised a session site at the district collectorate for revenue officials.

According to sources, only two beneficiaries from the revenue department came forward voluntarily to take the vaccine while the majority of them stayed away. As many as 2,734 beneficiaries from the revenue department have registered for phase II of the vaccination drive.  On Saturday, only 900 out of the 3,700 beneficiaries turned up.

“The turnout of frontline workers for the vaccination drive has been very disappointing, especially at the district Collectorate. On Friday, only 28 per cent of the beneficiaries were administered the vaccine — too low a number. Many experts from the government machinery also spoke against the Covaxin initially.

The IMA issued a statement that it is still under trial. All these, and the negative media reports have created major backlash in the state capital,” said a senior official of DMO. The official said there is an organised campaign against the vaccine from staff associations. If the beneficiaries continue to boycott it, the state should consider opening it up for the public, he said. 

According to officials, if the government had decided to introduce Covaxin after using up the entire stock of Covishield, the situation would have been better. “We still have Covishield stock left. For healthcare workers, we used Covishield and on the day one of the phase 2 vaccination drive, we used Covishield. All top officials of various departments, including the collector, took Covishield, which sent out a wrong message to the rest of the beneficiaries. Many returned without taking the vaccine shot as they have this strong feeling that they are being treated differently,” said a health official. 

Till Sunday, only around 1,400 of over 18,000 frontline workers received Covaxin. A district administration official said the beneficiaries of the revenue department are not against vaccination, and would have cooperated if the collector and other officials also took Covaxin.

Comprehensive campaign necessary
According to health authorities, the lack of campaign to promote the vaccination drives is one reason for the growing hesitancy among beneficiaries. “There are currently no campaigns in place. The government should seriously consider educating the public and the frontline workers. People are hearing only negative hearsays about the vaccine. Many people from the police department are skipping the drive thinking that they need to abstain from alcohol post vaccination, which is untrue,” said a senior official of the health department.

Indian Medical Association says
Dr N Sulphi, south zone vice-president of Indian Medical Association (IMA), Kerala Chapter, said the negative campaigns against Covaxin would hinder Kerala’s efforts to bring the Covid-19 situation under control. “Given a choice, I would prefer Covaxin over Covishield. It’s safer, but the only issue is that they haven’t finished clinical formalities yet. But that is normal given the emergency we have. Many other countries have rolled out vaccines even before starting the phase 2 trials,” said Sulphi. 

Beneficiaries registered for the phase II of the vaccination drive

Frontline workers 1,8213
Police  10,164
Panchayat  1,823 
Revenue 2,364 


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