Originated in China, the coronavirus (nCoV-19), has proved to be far worse than the seasonal flu and even SARS by researchers. Considered as the worst outbreak since the Spanish Flu, the global pandemic has altered the course of our lives, causing nations to standstill. The information regarding the extent and the spread of the virus, and its subsequent health impacts remains hidden from public idea – shrouding in misconceptions, false information, and sheer neglect. Efforts are being made to regulate the false spreading of information, while raising awareness regarding the Covid-19 vaccines on the government websites.
The Vaccination for COVID-19 is completely voluntary. Nevertheless, doctors and scientists have advised to receive the complete schedule of COVID-19 vaccine. This is because they produce protection against the disease through developing an immune response to the virus. By developing immunity, scientists simply mean a reduced risk of developing the illness and its consequences. This immunity helps you fight the virus if exposed. Getting vaccinated may also protect people around you, because if you are protected from getting infected and from disease, you are less likely to infect someone else. This is particularly important to protect people at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19, such as healthcare providers, older or elderly adults, and people with other medical conditions.
Ideally, the process of development of a vaccine involves –
Pre-clinical trial, where vaccine is tested on laboratory animals for their effectiveness. This is followed by,
Phase 1 Clinical trial, which takes places with a relatively small number of participants. This helps in assessing vaccine safety, immune response and determine right dosage.
Next is the Phase 2 Clinical trial, with a few hundred participants. It aids in assessing safety and the ability of the vaccine to generate an immune response. These phases are for a shorter duration. The final stage is,
Phase 3 Clinical trial with thousands of participants. This helps in determining vaccine effectiveness against the disease and safety in a larger group of people. The ideal duration for this last up to 1-2 years.
Two vaccines that have been granted emergency use authorization by the Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSCO) in India are Covishield® (AstraZeneca's vaccine manufactured by Serum Institute of India) and Covaxin® (manufactured by Bharat Biotech Limited). It has been reported that both of them have completed their Phase I & II trials.
Therefore, while usually developing a vaccine takes years of research our scientists have developed a vaccine against the novel coronavirus in a relatively short period of time. This has been made possible due to the efforts of the medical staff and researchers who have worked round the clock in the laboratory. Moreover, even the regulatory approvals which used to take several months have been fast tracked. The vaccines have only been introduced in the country after the regulatory bodies cleared them based on their safety and efficacy. This has helped eliminate all the time lapses between the pre-clinical and clinical trial stages, accelerating the whole process without compromises on any protocols and any step.
Another frequently pondered over question which vaccine would be the most suited. It has been reported that the safety and efficacy data from clinical trials of vaccine candidates are examined by Drug Regulator of our country before granting the license for the same. Hence, all the COVID-19 vaccines that receive license will have comparable safety and efficacy. There is no head-to-head comparison done between the two vaccines being used in India so one cannot choose one over the other. Both would work fine in preventing the infection as well as prevent a person from going into severe state of the disease. As a long term effect, it would be preventing death for elderly people or those who have comorbidities. However, it must be ensured that the entire schedule of vaccination is completed by only one type of vaccine as different COVID-19 vaccines are not interchangeable.
The long-term protection being warranted by COVID-19 vaccines have being speculated. Government sources report an ongoing research on this speculation. Nevertheless, it is heartening to note that available data suggest that most people who recover from COVID-19 develop an immune response that provides at least some period of protection against reinfection. The research is focused on exploring the strength of this protection and its duration.
The COVID-19 vaccines are also expected to provide at least some protection against new virus variants and are effective at preventing serious illness and death. This is because these vaccines create a broad immune response, and any virus changes or mutations should not make vaccines completely ineffective. However, in case any of these vaccines become less effective against one or more variants, scientists have stated that it will be possible to change the composition of the vaccines to protect against these variants. Moreover, data continues to be collected and analyzed on new variants of the COVID-19 virus.
Hence, while safe and effective vaccines are being developed and help fighting the virus, scientists have been advising to continue wearing masks, maintaining physical distancing and avoiding large social gatherings. Being vaccinated does not mean that we can throw caution to the wind and put ourselves and others at risk, particularly because research is still ongoing into how much vaccines protect not only against disease but also against infection and transmission.