Vaccine hesitancy will slowly go away, says virologist Dr Shahid Jameel

Dr Shahid Jameel, virologist and director, Trivedi School of Biosciences, Ashoka University, tells Prerna Katiyar that fears about Covaxin safety are misplaced. Edited excerpts:

What do you make of the reservations people have against Covaxin or vaccines in general?

This fear is misplaced as the safety of Covaxin is not in doubt. Covaxin will do you no harm, though there is not enough evidence on how much good it will do to you. At the same time, I feel this hesitancy will slowly go away, and it is. We started from less than 50% turnout to more than 70% now. Finally, the government is doing an outreach programme to build trust by ensuring that all the flagship hospitals take only Covaxin and not Covishield — this is a good signal.

What more needs to be done to gain trust?

What should come out in public in clear terms is that both the vaccines are proving to be safe. Even though the efficacy data is not out yet, safety data is out and both vaccines are found to be safe. Now whether it will protect 80% of the population or more or less, we don’t know.

Is the government doing enough?

I feel that it should have done two weeks back what it is doing now to broaden the outreach. When you are transparent, there is trust in the system. When you are not, people start thinking about all sorts of possibilities — that they are being used as guinea pigs. All sorts of smokescreens were being used — that Covaxin is just a back-up vaccine, that it will only be given when the ‘good’ is out of stock and so on. The choice of words is important. I am happy it is happening now.

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How does the AEFI (adverse event following immunisation) data look to you?

It is normal. AEFI is only 0.15-0.2% in India; cases of severe events are very, very low at 0.002%. Still these are experimental vaccines and we don’t have long-term safety data. But this is an emergency use. Both the vaccines available in India are equal in terms of safety. As for efficacy, the data is not available from clinical trials in India even for Covishield. So by that standard, both are equal.



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