From the Viewsroom

Haze over Covid vaccines

| Updated on January 03, 2021 Published on January 03, 2021

Health officials must be forthcoming with details and clarifications

Opacity is not a good quality to have when it comes to public health. But that’s precisely the wall public health workers are running into, when they seek details on Covid-19 vaccines that will now be rolled-out in India.

To give credit where due, the Health Ministry has put out elaborate advisories on travel protocol, public health hygiene measures, the network of labs undertaking Covid-19 tests, the test kits that have been approved, and so on.

The problem arises when further details are sought in the interest of public health. And this process just gets more opaque when it comes to clarifications on vaccine approvals.

In the run-up to approval D-day, a minister let slip that one of the vaccines had received approval for emergency use, a statement that had the media and others in a tizzy on whether it was the previous day’s Subject Expert Committee’s approval or whether it was the final drug regulatory authority’s green-light. The only clarification that came forth was that the drug regulator would have a media interaction the next day, and there too, he would take no questions!

Contrast this with foreign drug regulators who put out simple, explanatory statements on their actions, documents accessible to anyone, anywhere in the world. The recent Pfizer-BioNTech approval process by the US regulator was open to viewing and, more importantly, questions were answered.

In India, questions abound when it comes to vaccine side-effects, efficacy, etc. And away from the well-oiled public relations machinery of vaccine companies, it is the government that people look to for answers.

By not taking questions, the Health Ministry authorities risk losing the trust they were slowly bringing back into drug trials, under the Supreme Court’s watch. It is in the country’s best interest for health authorities to be forthcoming with details and clarifications. Else, public trust in the vaccines, as is the case this time, could be the casualty.

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Published on January 03, 2021
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