Bengal doctors’ body demands transparency on issues around COVID-19 vaccination, ‘neutral surveillance system’ from Centre

Published : January 14, 2021 21:52 IST

A doctor takes part in a dry run for the COVID-19 vaccine delivery held at SSKM hospital in Kolkata on January 8. Photo: DIBYANGSHU SARKAR/AFP

As the whole country is buzzing with the excitement of ridding itself of COVID-19 with the Union government’s vaccination programme, doctors from West Bengal have sounded a note of caution and demanded more transparency from the Centre. The Joint Platform of Doctors of West Bengal has issued a communiqué regarding what is needed to be known about the vaccination programme. “We feel, as a medical organisation, it is our responsibility to provide accurate information about vaccination. Everyone should be vaccinated to control this epidemic. However, we are demanding transparency from the government on a number of issues,” the doctors said in their statement. They have asked for all immunisation information to be made available to the public in real time online.

The doctors have demanded that the government must make available to everyone answers to the following queries:

Will the vaccine prevent the disease or reduce the severity of the disease?

At what stage of clinical trial do these vaccines belong?

What is the effectiveness of vaccines according to different age groups?

The letter states that in accordance with the recognised international rules, the vaccine should be given only after written, informed consent of the recipient, and that at this stage no one should be forced to take the vaccine. However, the communiqué clearly states that no one should be denied the vaccine either. “If someone is not able to participate in the first immunisation programme, they should get the opportunity later,” said the statement.

Doctors have also demanded a “neutral surveillance system”, and the vaccination programme should be carried out “under the supervision of one or more recognised international organisations by recruiting volunteer”. The surveillance system will note whether there are any emergency measures to deal with the side effects at the place where the vaccine is being given; whether each side effect is being documented in detail and how they are being handled; and whether the vaccine is being given subject to consent as per proper rules. The doctors’ body feels that in ​​case of any side effects after vaccination, the state should provide all the necessary treatment, and if there is any “permanent loss to the recipient as a result of vaccination, the government is responsible for the appropriate compensation of the recipient”.

It has suggested that the President of India, the Vice President, the Prime Minister, all the Ministers, MPs and MLAs of the Centre and State governments “should be vaccinated publicly to ward off fear, inertia, reluctance or suspicion of vaccination among common people”. It has pointed out that it is the responsibility of the Central government to provide vaccinations to all the people of the country and to bear all the expenses. “If the Central government fails to do so, State government will have to take this responsibility,” the doctors said in their statement.

In their communiqué the doctors’ body has highlighted the differences between the two vaccines that have received official approval in India — Covishield, researched by the University of Oxford and developed at the Serum Institute of India; and Covaxin, researched by the ICMR and developed by Bharat Biotech. “The manufacturer claims that Covishield is about 70 per cent effective in preventing disease. In the case of Covaxin, we have not yet received evidence of its effectiveness. It is unknown till now for how many days these vaccines will give us protection. However, it is expected that effective protection will be maintained for at least 9 months to 1 year. No vaccine can give you one hundred percent protection. Therefore, even after getting vaccinated, use face mask regularly, maintain physical distancing rules and keep your hands germ-free,” the doctors said in their statement.

They have also said that caution should be exercised before administering the two vaccines on pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers. “We do not have any scientific evidence that taking the two recognized vaccines in India will not cause any problems during pregnancy or breastfeeding. According to traditional vaccine science, vaccines made from dead viruses are usually safe for pregnant mothers. In that case, Covaxin may be safer than Covishield. However, these vaccines should not be used on pregnant and breastfeeding mothers until adequate evidence is available,” the communiqué stated.

Punyabrata Gun, convener of the Joint Platform of Doctors, West Bengal, told Frontline, “Just as there is confusion among citizens about the COVID-19 vaccine, there is confusion among doctors as well. It is very important to rid ourselves of this confusion. We are also putting up an individual’s right to know what is actually happening.”

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