Just around this time last year, everyone was fervently praying for a quick and effective solution to Covid-19 that would help us get on with our normal lives. But now that the vaccine is here and waiting, we have some of the same people wondering whether they should take it. What happened?

What is it?

Vaccine hesitancy refers to delay in acceptance or refusal to the take the vaccine despite the widespread availability of vaccine services. According to the WHO, this is influenced by factors such as complacency, convenience, and confidence. Some people think they’ll never contract Covid-19, others are loath to shed inertia and yet others believe that the virus itself is on the way out. Irrational mistrust of scientifically approved vaccines is also a factor. While vaccine hesitancy has always been a phenomenon, today it tends to accentuated by opinions on social media, where even people with no subject expertise, but have wide following can influence people.

Why is it important?

Understanding vaccine hesitancy and addressing it is important for pretty much the same reasons that everyone wanted a Covid-19 vaccine in the first place – to prevent avoidable deaths and health problems, to get on with normal life and for the economy to function at full capacity. It is also important for the long term to set right misconceptions on scientifically approved vaccines.

Vaccine hesitancy is best countered by concrete data. A key reason for vaccine hesitancy in India today appears to relate to side-effect and adverse events. Some side effects for 24-48 hours are normal for any vaccination just like it is for any medicine. As to the sporadic instances of deaths or adverse events post vaccination that have been highlighted in some media, it needs to be understood that the occurrence of such events does not automatically mean that the vaccine caused it. Capturing data on adverse events post-vaccination is a procedural requirement to perform a causality assessment. Sometimes media can jump the gun on such events and report them much before any causality is established. A second reason is whether policymakers have skipped some important steps in their race to approve the Covid-19 vaccine for emergency use. While there are globally established protocols for quick approvals in case of emergency, a written policy on this in India could inspire public confidence.

Why should I care?

Because it involves your life, and that of your near and dear ones. It also involves our economy and its revival. Memory might be short, but it would be prudent to recollect the lock-downs that disrupted normal life and brought the economy to a standstill last year. It would be irrational to conclude the problem is completely behind us today. One just has to look at the European countries that have experienced a massive second wave of virus attacks, to know that the Covid-19 risk has not vanished.

According to medical experts, India was 4 months behind Europe when it came to the first wave, and this lag could very well play out with the second wave as well. In fact, we already are seeing a renewed spike in Covid cases in States such as Maharashtra, Punjab and Kerala. The threat of this virus to life, livelihoods and health is not going to be over until at least 70-80 per cent of the population is immunised and herd immunity is achieved.

India has earned praise from the WHO, Bill Gates and many global leaders not just for developing/manufacturing the Covid-19 vaccine, but also for its successful vaccination drives against diseases like polio and smallpox.

The bottomline

If you have ‘vaccine hesitancy’ or any doubts on the Covid-19 vaccine or approval process in India, do check with your trusted health care professional. Do not decide for yourself based on google searches or hearsay!

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