Thursday , October 21 2021

Busting Myths of Immunization

The Government of India has been proactively trying to curb the wastage of COVID-19 vaccines and has been guiding the States and UTs in effectively using the doses in order to fight the pandemic.

There were some media reports stating that the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare’s insistence in keeping vaccine wastage below 1% is unrealistic and undesirable.

It is submitted that COVID-19 pandemic has been an unprecedented event in global health in the last century, which has resulted in changing the way the world interacted and behaved. Vaccination against COVID-19 is important in protecting the people from COVID-19 infection and associated mortality and morbidity. Equitable access to safe and effective vaccines is critical in ending the COVID-19 pandemic. Vaccine development takes a lot of time and demand for these vaccines exceeds the supply many times. Thus, it is important to monitor and ensure that this precious tool to address the pandemic should be used optimally and judiciously. COVID-19 vaccine is an essential public health commodity with global scarcity. Therefore, vaccine wastage must be reduced and kept to a minimum level which will further help vaccinate many people. In fact, Hon’ble Prime Minister has also time and again emphasised on ensuring minimum Vaccine Wastage, to ensure that the vaccine reaches the maximum number of people.

Any reduction in wastage means inoculating more people and leads to strengthening the fight against COVID-19. Each dose saved means vaccinating one more person. India is using the COVID-19 Vaccine Intelligence Network(Co-WIN) with the inbuilteVIN (Electronic Vaccine intelligence network) system, a digital platform, which not only registers the beneficiaries but also tracks the vaccines and facilitates real-time monitoring of storage temperatures across 29,000 cold chain points at the National, State, and District level. The current COVID-19 vaccines being used do not have an ‘open vial policy’ i.e., it has to be used within a stipulated time once the vial has been opened. The vaccinator is advised to mark the date and time of opening each vial and all open vaccine vials need to be used/discarded within 4 hours of opening. Several states have organized COVID-19 Vaccination in such a way, that not only there is no wastage but they are able to extract more doses from the vial and thus show a negative wastage. Hence,the expectation that vaccine wastage should be 1% or less is not at all unreasonable. It is reasonable, desirable and achievable.
Further, all States/ UTs have also been advised that each vaccination session is expected to cater to a atleast of 100 beneficiaries, however, in the case of remote and sparsely populated areas, the State could organize a session for a lesser number of beneficiarieswhile ensuring that there is no vaccine wastage. A session may be planned only when adequate beneficiaries are available.

The post vaccination observation time is optimally utilized to guide the beneficiaries on COVID Appropriate Behaviour, any possible Adverse Events Following Immunization (AEFI), and where they could reach out in case of an adverse event. Under any immunization programme, proper micro-planning is essential to ensure that we not only optimally use the available resources but also vaccinate as many beneficiaries to improve coverage. The states/ UTs are regularly being guided on it. Additionally, a regular review of the COVID-19 Vaccination drive across all levels is being conducted to include analysis of vaccine wastage with a focus on identifying areas where such wastage is high so that prompt corrective measures are undertaken. Directions have also been given to the concerned officials and COVID-19 Vaccination Centre (CVC) managers to efficiently plan vaccination sessions so as to keep the vaccine wastage rates at a minimum.

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