Scientists join hands to dispel Covid-19 vaccine misinformation in UN-backed initiative

PT Jyothi Datta Mumbai | Updated on November 17, 2020

Will you take a Covid-19 vaccine? That seems to be the question on many minds, as international vaccine-makers inch towards the finishing line of getting an approved Covid-19 vaccine out for public use.

From whether the vaccine is safe, to how long it would protect you, to can it be taken if you’ve been infected once? Questions abound, though answers are not always sought from a credible source.

This adds to the distrust which people are already feeling towards the vaccine, as reflected in different surveys. An online India-study claims that a large number of respondents were in fact wary of taking the shot.

To build confidence in the effectiveness of the Covid-19 vaccine and counter misinformation, over 100 scientists across the world have joined hands as Team Halo. The initiative stems from a collaboration between the United Nations and The Vaccine Confidence Project at the University of London’s School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Emphatic that safety has not been compromised in fast-tracked trials, vaccine expert Dr Gagandeep Kang tells BusinessLine, “I have no doubt that the vaccines have been developed in the best means possible, with no short-cuts being taken.” Vaccine misinformation threatens routine immunisation and future vaccines, she points out. And while no vaccine is 100 per cent safe, there is an understanding of what to expect and how to address it, she says, adding candidly, “I would take the vaccine.”

Dr Kang is Professor of Microbiology at Christian Medical College (Vellore), Chair of the Immunization Technical Advisory Group for the World Health Organisation (South East Asian Region) and a Team Halo contributor.

Over 22 scientists from reputed institutions across India are part of this international team that includes scientists from the Imperial College London, Harvard Medical School, University of Sao Paulo, and University of Barcelona.

Vaccine studies

Over the last 10-odd days, American companies -- Pfizer and Moderna, and Russia’s Gamaleya Centre have said that their vaccine candidates showed over 90 per cent efficacy, even as they were undergoing late-stage trials.

But studies from across the globe also find vaccine hesitancy among people, as they try to grapple with all the scientific detail coming out. An India-study by LocalCircles, a community social media platform, found 61 per cent of 25,000 online respondents being wary of taking the shot, even if the vaccine came out early next year.

On Tuesday, though, a survey released by the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), covering over 12,000 respondents in 11 countries, found that 73 per cent of the respondents expressed readiness to being vaccinated. In fact, it added, the percentage of willing respondents was higher among those who were aware of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine. The survey was done by UK’s market research company YouGov, in countries including India, Brazil, Malaysia etc.

Unpredictable virus

The different signals notwithstanding, Dr Kang urges those who are unlikely to get the severe infection also to take the vaccine. “This is an unpredictable virus and the risk of not taking the vaccine is far greater than taking it,” she says. Dr Kang will engage with young people over social media to dispel their misgivings on the vaccine and help them understand the information-overload that is in public domain.

Published on November 17, 2020

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