As a public health physician, recently I was asked for my opinion on whether people should take the COVID-19 vaccine when it is made available.
When I first published the book on COVID-19, there was no vaccine. Then I shared the manner in which vaccine trials are conducted. Now many of you are aware of the different phases of trials for the vaccines. Now the vaccines are beginning to be available in different countries. It is likely to be available shortly in India.
I am using the term ‘when made available,’ because the government of India at least is planning to start with high priority groups first, starting with health care workers, frontline workers and then senior citizens and then come down the line.
One of the purposes of doing phased trials is to determine the effectiveness of the vaccine as well as identifying the side effects. With the vaccines being now approved for use, the recorded side effects are being made public.
Before I attempt to answer the question, we need to understand that the community is already divided into two broad categories of people with two groups in each. The first category is those who advise people to take or not to take the vaccine. The second category is the group where already some have decided that they will not take the vaccine and the opposite are those who have chosen to take the vaccine.
The whole world has put so much hope on a vaccine to get out of the COVID-19 problem, it may not meet all our expectations.
Having said this, now let us look at the issues involved in understanding the vaccine and its use with COVID-19. I have looked at the three leading vaccines namely the Oxford-Zenca, The Pfizer and the Moderna vaccines.
The first issue is what is called efficacy. That means, what percentage of protection does the different vaccines provide. The WHO has indicated that any vaccine that is more than 50% is acceptable.
The Oxford Zenca vaccine has displayed protection from 70 to 90%, with Pfizer 95% and Moderna 94%.
We are not sure how long the immunity produced by the vaccine would last. Would there be a need for repeat vaccines and how often? We do not have complete answers for these.
One of the logistic issues relating to some of the vaccines is the need for very low temperatures. It may not be easy and in such situations, those that require lesser temperature requirement may be more acceptable.
Whatever be the situation, just because you have taken the vaccine, do not become complacent and become careless. We still do not know enough of the disease, much less the value of the vaccines being promoted now.
Someone has indicated that it would be better to be cautious of any rushed vaccine. “Would you take the Pfizer vaccine tomorrow?” That was the question asked of nurses and support staff in a cancer centre. Their immediate answer was, “No. We are not required to take it.”
So, what would my advice be? If the vaccine is made available to you, by all means take it. We do not know how much rush there would be in the initial phases, and whether we will be forced into crowds to get the vaccine. I hope soon you have more information to make an informed decision on the vaccine to be taken when available.
Just a figure below to show how people in different countries are looking at the vaccines coming in for COVID-19.