India steps up safety campaign as Covax vaccine delivery starts in Africa

Covid vaccination in India

A medical worker prepares to administer a dose of the Covid-19 coronavirus vaccine to a municipal worker at a vaccination centre in New Delhi, India, on February 22, 2021.


Photo credit: Sajjad Hussain | AFP

What you need to know:

  • India, which rolled out the massive vaccination of its frontline workers late in January, experienced initial hesitancy, with recipients turning up in low numbers following doubts about the safety of the doses.

India is stepping up its campaigns against Covid-19 vaccine hesitancy as it becomes the focal source of doses to be distributed in Africa under the Covax facility.

The Asian country’s Foreign and Health ministries have been assuring potential recipients that the doses are safe for consumption.

Indian Health Minister Harsh Vardhan, in a bulletin last week, said there is no link between reported deaths in particular groups and the doses they received.

“It has not been established that they died because they took the vaccines. The vaccines are safe,” the minister said.

India, which rolled out the massive vaccination of its frontline workers late in January, experienced initial hesitancy, with recipients turning up in low numbers following doubts about the safety of the doses.

But the Health ministry said there has been a very low rate of reported negative incidents in the vaccinated group, which is medically known as the Adverse Events Following Immunisation (AEFI).

The WHO says any untoward medical occurrence in a person who has taken the vaccine may constitute AEFI even though it may not be connected to the vaccine itself.

The global health agency, nonetheless, says administrators of the vaccine must educate the masses on safety.

In India, Vardhan said AEFI constituted 0.000312 per cent of the vaccinated population.

By Friday, India said it had vaccinated more than 1.8 million people, mostly frontline health workers, administering 13 million doses.

It was due to start vaccinating senior citizens from March 1 in a country of 1.4 billion where more than 11 million have been infected with Covid-19 and more than 156,000 have died.

Africa’s first recipients

Indian officials have sent the same assurances to all the countries which have received batches of vaccines produced from the country.

One of the two vaccines approved for emergency use in India will be used in the Covax facility. Some 600,000 doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine produced by the Serum Institute of India constituted the batch delivered to Ghana this week, making the country the first to receive vaccines under Covax.

In India, the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is known as Covishield.

When Ghana received its batch of Covax, Mr Anurag Srivastava, the spokesperson of the Indian External Affairs ministry, said the delivery was in “keeping our African commitment”.

“Fulfilling our commitment to help the world with Covid-19 vaccines, supplies of Made-in-India vaccines commence today for Africa under the Covax facility,” he wrote on Twitter on Wednesday.

Under a vaccine diplomacy programme known as Vaccine Maitri, the Indian External Affairs ministry also announced it will be delivering doses to friendly countries in Africa, its neighbourhood and other parts of the world.

Some of the doses were delivered as grants, while others were delivered on “commercial basis”, according to a dispatch from the Indian government.

In Africa, South Africa and Egypt were the first to receive batches from India outside of Covax.

Writing in Newsweek earlier, Dr Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, India’s External Affairs minister, argued vaccine response will form part of diplomacy and the country’s reputation as the “pharmacy of the world”.

“Fashioning a robust response to the Covid-19 challenge is set to dominate global diplomacy in 2021. In its own way, India has set an example by defying prophets of doom and creating the health wherewithal to minimise its fatality rate and maximise its recovery rate,” Dr Jaishankar said.

“India also stepped forward as the pharmacy of the world, supplying medicines to more than 150 countries, many as grants.”

India produces six out of every 10 vaccines used in the world today, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

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