MADURAI: A month after the Covid-19 inoculation drive was kicked off in Tamil Nadu, the beneficiaries will now be allowed to choose between the two vaccines, Covishield and Covaxin. Making this statement while speaking exclusively to The New Indian Express, the Principal Secretary to the Department of Health and Family Welfare, Dr J Radhakrishnan, said, “Since two vaccines have been granted approval and are in stock, the government has decided to make them both available in all the districts, leaving it to the beneficiaries to choose between the two. The decision was taken following requests for Covaxin from districts that earlier did not offer it. Some who preferred Covaxin over Covishield said that they had to travel far to take the jab at one of the six districts initially.”
This is the first time the beneficiaries have been given a choice. On January 13, after the inoculation drive began, Director of Public Health, Dr T S Selvavinayagam, had said, “Beneficiaries cannot choose between Covishield and Covaxin. They can only get what is available at the time of the vaccination drive in the site.”
The Covid-19 vaccine, Covaxin, which was administered at only six vaccination session sites across Tamil Nadu until last week, will now be available at government medical college hospitals in several districts in a phased manner. The State had received its first consignment of 20,000 doses of Covaxin, developed indigenously by Bharat Biotech, on January 13, in addition to 5,36,500 doses of Covishield, developed jointly by Oxford University and AstraZeneca, that were flown down to Chennai from Pune on January 12.
At the time when the Covid-19 immunisation drive was kick-started in the State on January 16, Covishield was administered at 160 vaccination session sites (healthcare facilities), while Covaxin was given at only six vaccination sites.But from January 28, the health department added more number of session sites to the list of centres giving Covishield in all the districts. Eventually, taluk hospitals and Primary Healthcare Centres also became vaccine centres. As on Wednesday, Covishield vaccine is being offered at 646 session sites across the State.
However, the availability of Covaxin was restricted to only six government medical colleges till February 15, according to data released by the Directorate of Public Health and Preventive Medicine. On February 16 (Tuesday), the number of session sites administering Covaxin was stepped up to 16, making the vaccine available at 10 other medical college hospitals across the State, the data showed. On Wednesday, the number of session sites for Covaxin climbed further to 22, revealed the data.
A directive, dated February 12, issued by the Director of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, Dr TS Selvavinayagam, states that 1,71,920 doses of Covaxin have been allotted for distribution to all the 10 Regional Vaccine Stores (RVS), from where the vaccine vials would be further dispatched to several districts across Tamil Nadu.Accordingly, 25 more districts have now been allocated for administering Covaxin, in addition to the existing six districts.
Multiple sources in the state health department said that Covaxin, which is yet to complete phase 3 clinical trial, is being introduced with caution across the State. In line with this, the vaccine is administered only at tertiary healthcare centres - government medical college hospitals or district headquarters hospitals that are well-equipped to treat a beneficiary if he/she experiences any adverse effects following immunisation (AEFI).
In Madurai district, Covaxin was introduced in the district on February 15 (Monday) with four healthcare workers taking the jab on day one in the session site at Government Rajaji Hospital (GRH). On the second day, 18 healthcare workers received the shot on day two at GRH. On Wednesday, 40 healthcare workers took the jab at GRH and 20 healthcare workers took the jab at the Usilampatti district headquarters hospital. Thus, a total of 82 healthcare workers in the district opted to be inoculated with Covaxin so far. The district received 10,000 doses of Covaxin, said the District Immunisation Officer Dr KV Arjun Kumar.
Why prefer Covaxin over Covishield?
When asked why they preferred Covaxin, some of the doctors and medical students said that Covaxin uses inactivated virus. Commenting on this, public health expert Dr K Kolandaswamy said that by incorporating a new technique in biotechnology, Covishield uses a chimpanzee viral vector that is incapable of replication, based on a weakened adenovirus that causes infections in chimpanzees. “On the other hand, Covaxin is an inactivated vaccine that uses the dead virus which causes the infection,” he added.