Healthcare Workers Must Receive Top Priority After the Release of COVID-19 Vaccine: PM Modi

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The lockdown 6.0 is still prevailing. The number of cases is reaching peaks exponentially every day. The death rate is drastically increasing and the recovery rate is decreasing. The lockdown is causing a major drop in India’s economy which is affecting a large population of the country, especially the people in the rural parts of India as they depend on everyday wages for food and shelter. The unemployment rate has increased to 21.11% among the Covid-19 crisis as companies are letting go of the inexperienced, recruits.

This pandemic has also taken a toll on people’s mental health and it has robbed the sense of purpose from people’s lives. On one side, the coronavirus is carrying the scythe of the Reaper reaping souls, and on the other side, depression and anxiety are killing people.  Around 300 people have committed suicide during this lockdown period due to depression and anxiety. Staying alive ever day has itself become a huge privilege in these tough times.

When will the pandemic end?

The discovery of a vaccine would be the ultimate weapon against the coronavirus which is currently ruling the world and it might be our only chance to go back to our normal lives. A vaccine development process usually takes a decade or longer. So, is all hope lost? Would humankind have to practice social distancing and wear protective masks and gloves for the next few years? We don’t have the answers to these questions yet.

Recent developments

With 584K recorded COVID-19 cases in India till date, the world’s sharpest biologists and biotechnologists are spending all of their waking moments towards finding a vaccination for SARS-CoV-2. Around 90 research companies and universities are trying to develop a vaccine against Covid-19.

More than a dozen pharmaceutical companies around the globe are in the clinical trial phase of vaccination development. A Hyderabad based biotech company called “Bharat Biotech” in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and the National Institute of Virology (NIV)  won the approval of Drug Controller General of India (DGCI) to start phase I and II clinical trials of its vaccine prototype, named ‘COVAXIN’ in our country. Pre-clinical trials for the same have shown great immune response and promising results.

One issue at a time

Once it becomes available, however, it is clear that there will not be enough supply for the entire world, at least in the short term. We would face novel issues such as: to whom will priority be given? Will citizens from all kinds of financial backgrounds have access to it? In a recent interview, our Prime minister, Narendra Modi declared that top priority will be given to frontline health care workers like doctors, nurses, sanitation workers, etc., as they risk their lives every day by exposing themselves to the virus to help the patients.

He said a lot of factors will be considered in prioritization of vaccinating the huge population of India like coordination between different agencies involved, as well as the role of the private sector and civil society. He said once the vulnerable population is vaccinated, the same should be offered “anyone, anywhere” without any domicile restrictions. “The vaccination should be universal and affordable and no human being should be left behind”, noted a press release. The prime minister asked the officials to make use of the broad technology available to plan and execute the large scale manufacture of the vaccines. Initially, supplies are going to be limited but soon deployment and delivery are going to be an enormous challenge,” said K. Vijay Raghavan, principal scientific adviser to the govt and former secretary within the department of biotechnology. “We must have amplified manufacturing and stockpiling capacity in place. We must prioritize access, stratifying target groups, and ensuring delivery — first to wherever the necessity is most pressing. We have a strong vaccine manufacturing sector and an efficient delivery system through our health services.” Public health experts acknowledged that India’s large immunization program, especially its experience with polio immunization, could help in designing and implementing a strategy for Covid-19 vaccines if and when they emerge. On a typical polio immunization day, a senior virologist said, 172 million children across India would receive the polio vaccine.

Will reality reflect these words?

The real question is, will this happen in reality? It is only fair that the health care workers and the vulnerable population of India receive top priority. Pictures of medical workers from around the world with bruises on their faces after working endless hours battling COVID-19 have been circulating on the internet. And there are other scars which have remained hidden. The crisis is having a devastating effect on the mental health of healthcare workers. So many doctors and nurses have lost their lives in the process of treating patients. Even more of them have been diagnosed with Covid-19.

People have been appreciative of the doctors and nurses. They are being lauded as super heroes for their response to this pandemic. People have clapped, banged pots, put up signs on windows that displayed messages of gratitude. While these gestures by the people are kind and good intended, it is far from enough. It is crucial that we give our heroes more than just praises of gratitude.  The long term safety of these workers must be ensured and guaranteed.

Globally, we can agree that wealthy nations will monopolize the vaccines and keep a large quantity of it with them. Some countries might even refuse to export it as it happened previously during the H1N1 pandemic.

Nationally, a country that is famous for nepotism and favouring the elite percentage of the population, will the vaccinations be distributed with equity, or will the lives of the less fortunate will be put at stake to favour the rich? Will the poor be exploited of basic human rights so that another millionaire business man could become even richer? Only time can answer these questions. Therefore, a provisional solution must then be found – one that recognizes populations that need to be given priority.

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