Vaccines have been the most effective medical intervention ever invented in the world so far, especially when pandemics hit humankind. There is no doubt that the ability of vaccines to save lives is unmatched by any medicine. In fact, the first vaccine, which was developed against smallpox in 1796, actually eradicated the disease from the face of the earth, enabling the World Health Organisation to declare the world free from smallpox in 1979. There are many other examples, such as the polio vaccine, which eliminated poliomyelitis in the world except in two countries, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Another example of a disease, which was also almost eradicated from most of the world through vaccination, is measles. That is the power of vaccination.
This is not the first time we are facing a pandemic. Pandemics have been around since at least 1,100 years ago. The most devastating one in recent memory is the Spanish flu in 1918 that affected more than 50 million people, of which over 5 million people perished. I don’t think the current pandemic could be of that extent.
As you all know, vaccine development is not an easy process, though it may look simple on paper. It is both time-consuming as well as expensive. But, fortunately, what changed the situation during COVID-19 was the existence of many experimental vaccine technology platforms that the world had already developed in the last several years. In turn, this was because of existing and new funding support from different organisations such as COVAX, GAVI, Gates Foundation, CEPI among others, and the fast-tracked processes supported by quick and very effective collaborations between governments, public and private institutions and regulatory agencies, along with initiatives and guidance from WHO and the respective governments. This included swift information sharing between various agencies and governments, expedited new infrastructure development by manufacturers and very robust approval processes allowing various stages of development in parallel without compromising on quality. As far as the safety of COViD-19 vaccines is concerned, there are absolutely no issues — I have no doubt about it, at least with regard to those vaccines that have already completed — or are in the process of completing — their phase-3 trials and are approved for use in different markets including India. As a person involved in their development, I can tell you that we have adequate data from each of the trial stages (phases 1, 2 & 3) to prove this.
So, it is time to value science and the system to alleviate concerns. On the other hand, such aversion to vaccination is a reason for concern as resistance to immunisation, or even the deprivation of such benefits for some reason, has already caused worries about the possibility of the resurgence of many diseases, including the Spanish flu.
Dr Suresh Jadhav is Executive Director at Serum Institute of India Ltd
—As spoken in the Future Medicine Webinar on COVID-19 Vaccination- Scientific Position, Clinical Evaluation & Implementation