Early universal COVID-19 vaccination decision could have saved many lives

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his address to the nation on June 6, announced 100% centralisation of the vaccination drive against the COVID-19 pandemic, which will be implemented within two weeks.

Dismissing the decentralised policy rolled out on May 1, he said that the Centre would account for the procurement of 75% of COVID-19 vaccines from the producers and consequently provide these free to the states for inoculation. Private players would have the remaining 25%, with a cap on the service charge.
It is needless to mention that COVID-19 has caused unprecedented devastation and immeasurable sufferings to the people of India as the deadly virus infected 28,996,949, killed 3,51,344, and 27,341,462 people have recovered from the disease till 7.51 AM on June 8 as per Worldometre.
This announcement fulfils the demand of Arunachal Pradesh Congress Committee president MLA Nabam Tuki, a former chief minister, made in a memorandum to the President of India on June 4 to make free vaccination universal to defeat the virus.
The PM's announcement also clarified many questions raised by Tuki, such as why Serum Institute's Covishield single dose costs were Rs.150 for central Govt, Rs.300 for state Govts and Rs.600 for private hospitals. Similarly, why Bharat Biotech's Covaxin single dose cost was Rs.150 for the central Govt, Rs.600 for state Govts and Rs.1,200 for private hospitals.
Regrettably, the central Govt had exported 6.63 crore vaccine doses to 95 countries to date. Despite the fact when the number of infections in India was on a rising trend.
Representative Image
Image: Representative Image
Though export of vaccines was stopped after criticism by various quarter, the Centre had claimed to have administered 21.31 crore vaccine doses till May 31 last, covering only 4.45 crore Indians who had received both vaccine doses.
That was .17% of the population vaccinated in 1.34 days at an average of about 16 lakh vaccine doses per day. At this pace, it would take over three years to vaccinate all adult population.
Thus, chief ministers and health ministers of many states have hailed the Centre's decision after the PM announced a centralised vaccination drive.
Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, who was the frontrunner in demanding centralisation of the vaccination drive, wrote, "Every life is precious. No one is safe until everyone is vaccinated. As a nation, we stand united in this fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
The PM's announcement also clarified many questions raised by Tuki, such as why Serum Institute's Covishield single dose costs were Rs.150 for central Govt, Rs.300 for state Govts and Rs.600 for private hospitals.
Arunachal Pradesh CM, Pema Khand, heartily welcomed PM Modi's decision along with his Tripura counterpart. Biplab Kumar Deb tweeted that it would give a significant boost to the efforts of tackling the pandemic.
Interestingly. Bacillus Calmette, "Guérin (BCG) vaccine primarily used against tuberculosis (TB), invented by Albert Calmette and Camille Guerin and was first used medically in 1921 to find a place in the World Health Organisation's list of essential medicines.
TB is a major global public health problem, with 8 million new cases globally per year and 2.89 million deaths. The estimated morbidity of tuberculosis was 2%. There were 15 million cases of pulmonary tuberculosis in India in 1989.
It is a fact that BCG vaccination was extended to schools in almost all states of India in 1949. The International Tuberculosis Campaign (ITC) supported the Govt of India in the expansion and scale-up of BCG vaccination. In a conference attended by state Govt representatives in 1951 summer, a proposal for the extension of the mass BCG vaccination campaign throughout India was endorsed.
The Centre had prepared a plan of operations laying down the organisational set-up required in each state to cover the total young population during a five to seven-year. The BCG vaccination was expanded through mass campaigns in 1951. The ITC support ended in June 1951 and from July 1951 but continued by Indian authorities in close cooperation with UNICEF with WHO's technical advice. In 1955-1956, the mass BCG vaccination covered all states and in 1962 became a part of the National Tuberculosis Control Programme, and the rest is history.
Representative image
Image: Representative image
Hindustan Times on 20.07.20 published TB vaccine averts severe infections, deaths from Covid-19: Study, written by Sanchita Sharma, which reads: The inexpensive and widely-used BCG vaccine that protects against childhood tuberculosis also prevent severe infection and death from COVID-19, concluded two peer-reviewed studies released last week, including one led by Indian researchers of New Delhi-based Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU).
The JNU study from India found that the quality of protection depends on the BCG strain used to make the vaccine, with mixed, Pasteur and Japan strains being superior to the three other strains, which together account for more than 90% of the BCG vaccines being used in the world.
The peer-reviewed study was published in Cell Death and Disease as part of the Nature group of journals. The second study from the US, published in proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, also linked BCG vaccination with reduced COVID-19 deaths.
"Those who got BCG vaccination, not just in India but in other countries, are more protected than those who were not, shows this analysis of data for countries with over 1,000 reported cases. We think BCG-mediated immune response would help in lowering both incidence and severity of infection," said study author JNU's Centre for Molecular Medicine Prof Gobardhan Das. Around the world, around 100 million children get the BCG vaccine every year.
If the Centre was aware of the BCG vaccination drive, it is intriguing that it launched a universal COVID-19 vaccination drive so late. If PM Modi would have made this announcement early, who knows, the lives of many unfortunate Indians might have been saved!

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