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The Centre says India need not administer covid-19 vaccine jabs to the entire population. Rather, inoculating a “critical mass" on priority will help break the chain of transmission. If the earlier presumption was that all would be given the shots, what does this mean? Mint delves in

What does govt mean by “critical mass"?

The government aims, in the first instance, to vaccinate 250-300 million “priority" populace in six months after a vaccine is available. They would include healthcare workers such as doctors, nurses, paramedic staff, frontline workers like sanitation staff, security personnel, elderly and those with comorbidities. Together, they make up the critical mass. It is important to immunize frontline workers—as they can be carriers of the virus due to the nature of their job. This should break the chain of transmission, reducing infection rate. As for the elderly and those with health conditions, they are very vulnerable to the infection.

What explains limited vaccination strategy?

Evidently, it’s got to do with supplies. There are several vaccine candidates being developed at a record pace, but only one of them, Pfizer-BioNtech’s, has been approved so far and that too in the UK. Others are yet to seek approvals, or those that have done are being evaluated by regulators. Serum Institute of India aims to ready 300-400 million shots of the two-dose Covishield by April. That’s the one being developed by Oxford University. SII is a manufacturing partner. Covishield would cost $3 per dose. If Centre were to procure it and inoculate the entire 1.3 billion people, the jabs alone would cost $7.8 billion.

Covid vaccine shot cost
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Covid vaccine shot cost

Should the rest of people be worried in that case?

As long as the virus exists, people do need to take precautions. Once the government has been able to give protective jabs to the “critical mass", which should presumably include the poor, and as supplies increase, others can buy vaccines at pharmacies and get themselves inoculated. Observing covid-appropriate behaviour remains key throughout this fight.

Will the recovered need to be inoculated?

This is being debated nationally and globally. Generally, those who have had a viral infection develop antibodies that fight off its recurrence. But what is moot is how long those antibodies last. There have been stray reports of re-infections, suggesting that the antibodies do not last long or provide durable protection against the virus. But such incidents have been few and far between and most people who have recovered are unlikely to get sick again as long as they observe basic precautions such as masking up.

When can we expect vaccine drive to begin?

Serum Institute of India hopes to apply to the country’s drug regulator for emergency-use authorization of the AstraZeneca vaccine in about two weeks, even as it awaits the completion of its trials by December-end. Thus, a vaccination drive will likely begin only next year, subject to safety clearance by the relevant authorities. There are other candidates, such as the one being developed by Bharat Biotech, Zydus Cadila and Russia’s Sputnik V, but their late-stage trials have only just begun.

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