Latest News USA

Get re-vaccinated students from India told

Since March, over 400 US colleges and universities have announced students get Covid-19 vaccinations, ahead of the Autumn semester but those who have been inoculated with India’s indigenous Covaxin or the Russian-made Sputnik V are being asked to re-vaccinate as these vaccines have not yet been approved by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Rukmini Callimachi reports in the The New York Times that Milloni Doshi, a 25-year-old student from India, who is due to start her master’s degree this fall at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, has been administered two doses of Covaxin. Now, Columbia has told her that she will need to be revaccinated with a different vaccine once she arrives on campus.

“I am just concerned about taking two different vaccines. They said the application process would be the toughest part of the cycle, but it’s really been all of this that has been uncertain and anxiety-inducing,” Doshi wrote via a messaging app.
Campuses are proposing different measures, out of which the more complicated scenario is if students received a vaccine that has not been approved by the WHO, like Sputnik or Covaxin. Many colleges are proposing that those students will need to be revaccinated, which presents both medical and logistical conundrums. (ANI)


Read More
India Latest News

Modi announces revised Covid vaccine policy, 44 crore doses ordered

Forty-four crore doses of Covid vaccines have been ordered which will be available from August, the Indian government said amid a raging shortage that forced a closure of vaccine centers in many states. These doses will be delivered between August and December 2021, the Union Health Ministry said.

The health ministry announcement — that orders have been placed for 25 crore doses of Covishield and 19 crore doses of Covaxin to achieve universalization of vaccination — came a day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a fresh vaccine policy.

The new policy takes back the onus of vaccine purchase from the states. The finance ministry said that the new program will cost around ₹ 50,000 crore and the Centre has the necessary funds.

Last week, the government said it has booked 30 crore doses of Hyderabad-based Biological-E’s Covid vaccine, which is undergoing clinical trial.

The procurement issue became a matter of huge controversy as the coronavirus ravaged the country in the second wave and exposed the massive shortcomings in the healthcare sector, especially in rural areas.

The Indian Supreme Court strongly criticized the vaccine policy, calling it “prima facie arbitrary and irrational” and demanded a blueprint of the way ahead. The judges strongly hinted that a do-over was in order.

The vaccination programme will retain priority categorization for health workers, frontline workers, 45-plus people and those due for second doses followed by the 18-44 age group while also facilitating supply and payment for jabs procured by private hospitals through the National Health Authority’s e-platform. States though may decide their own prioritization factoring in supply schedules.

According to a government release, private hospitals will charge a maximum of Rs 780 for a shot of Covishield, Rs 1,410 for Covaxin and Rs 1,145 for Sputnik V.

The NHA’s role is to ensure small and remote private hospitals get timely and equitable access to vaccines and states are to aid the process by aggregating demand keeping in mind regional balance and size of establishments. The formula for the Centre’s allocation to states is largely unchanged, going by caseload, population and negative marks for wastage.

Importantly, all government and private vaccination centers will provide walk-in registration facility for individuals as well as groups of people. “All citizens irrespective of their income status are entitled to free vaccination. Those who have the ability to pay are encouraged to use a private hospital’s vaccination center,” the guidelines said.

There will also be non-transferable electronic vouchers to encourage people to help with vaccination of the economically weaker section. These vouchers can be redeemed only at private vaccination centers.

Read More
coronavirus India Latest News

India targets 10 M vaccinations per day by July-August

The government on Tuesday said there will be enough Covid vaccines in India by mid-July or early August this year to inoculate up to 10 million people every day.
During a media briefing, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) director-general Dr Balram Bhargava said that Centre will be able to fulfil its goal of vaccinating the entire adult population of India by December 2021.

“We need to be patient. We have administered nearly as many vaccine doses as the United States. There is no shortage of vaccines. By mid-July or August, we will have enough doses to vaccinate 1 crore people per day. We are confident of vaccinating the whole population by December,” he said.

The assertion comes just days after the Union health ministry said that 12 crore doses of vaccines will be available in India in the month of June itself.
Currently, the nationwide vaccination program is progressing at a slow pace due to shortage of doses. 
Specifying norms for opening districts, the ICMR chief said that the Covid positivity rate should be below five per cent for a week, over 70 per cent of the vulnerable population should be vaccinated and there should be community ownership to implement Covid-appropriate behavior.
He said the positivity rate is less than five per cent in 344 districts while 30 states and UTs have reported a decline in active Covid-19 cases since last week.
The ICMR DG added that 239 districts have registered more than 10% positivity rate.
There has also been an almost 69 per cent decline in Covid cases since the peak recorded on May 7, he said.
The government also clarified that mixing vaccines is not a protocol till further update and there is no change in the schedule of the two-dose Covishield and Covaxin vaccines.
India has been administering doses of Covishield and Covaxin since the inoculation drive began in January. Russia’s Sputnik V was recently added to the immunization program and is being administered in select hospitals.

Read More
coronavirus India Latest News

Covid: People should not let India down

Intro: The health emergency has exposed the socio-cultural degradation of many in Indian society, a society that prided itself and genuinely so for its inheritance of moral and spiritual legacies.

By DC Pathak

The deadly second wave of Covid-19 has provoked an intense public debate and anger on the reasons why it was allowed to hit us at all and the points raised have varied from delayed preparatory moves to failures of response from an overrun healthcare system that resulted in casualties owing to shortages of beds, oxygen and medicines at the hospitals. 

The pandemic overwhelmed all systems and inevitably a large number of tragic deaths occurring across the country could become a part of the collective historical memory — but with the remembrance also of the enormous work done by our medical fraternity for saving lives despite shortages of supplies and equipment. The crisis has produced a political fallout and the opposition has seized the opportunity of pressing forth with its criticism of the Modi government in regard to the long-term preparations required for meeting the health hazard. 

It is the politics of perceptions that is in full play now but all of that could change in the future depending on the way events unfold themselves and the success the present regime achieved in planning for all contingencies in the times ahead.

There is no denying the fact that even in the ‘unlock’ phases Prime Minister Modi had constantly emphasised the need for Covid precautions to be followed strictly. Many people in India regrettably did not come out at their best as far as their own conscious or innocent contribution to the spread of the pandemic was concerned. Social festivities like weddings and get- togethers continued particularly in the North in utter disregard of the Covid restrictions. 

There could be a variety of reasons why this happened. Herd mentality, so typical of the public here, came into play in adding to the defiance of the standardised Covid-appropriate behavior.

Evidently, there was also a widespread absence of scientific temper that would be a major reason why people failed to grasp the prime importance of the elementary preventive measures of mask, safe distancing and hand sanitisation. This was seen even in the segments of population that could afford to buy quality masks and sanitisers. 

Migrations of the economically weak on account of lockdowns — that had not guaranteed their wages even for a temporary period — proved to be a debilitating factor. The pull of faith as a mitigator of threat to health, and even of danger to life, was also there in the context of an event like Kumbh. The pandemic demanded voluntary postponement of mass agitations, a political activity in normal times, in the interest of the public at large.

An excessive reliance on the powers that be for delivery, big or small, in a public crisis, could be the outcome of a system where the voter accepted the promise that everything possible under the sun would be done by the victorious candidate or party.

On the whole, a higher degree of public awareness would have reduced the gravity of incidence of the second wave and checked its cumulative spread. As the government proceeds at a rapid pace to make up for deficiencies and arrange for universal vaccination, the role of the people in countering the pandemic is still going to be extremely important in the months to come.

There have been numerous cases of serious and even fatal consequences of exposure to an asymptomatic infected person who was a regular visitor to the victim’s house. The point is about lack of awareness in a situation where common sense itself would have suggested the dos and don’ts of Covid precautions. Now that even children are said to be in the zone of vulnerability, the adults across the society have to once again redefine their responsibilities.

What is truly deplorable is that the health emergency exposed the socio-cultural degradation of many in Indian society, a society that prided itself and genuinely so for its inheritance of moral and spiritual legacies. 

This has produced a spectacle of innumerable individuals and philanthropic bodies coming forth to help those in distress on the one hand and a significant number of depraved individuals making huge monetary gains, on the other, by selling medical equipment and medical supplies in the black — in full knowledge of the threat to life that this caused. Deterrent action against such culprits, wherever possible, has to be taken to build confidence of the citizens in governance.

The crisis has unravelled the poor state of management that various establishments deemed to be autonomous in their working, had suffered over the years — whether it was the case of a hospital, a university or a civil supplies centre of the government. Misconduct of a ward boy with a Covid patient going unpunished has become the symbol of how this country’s systems had been allowed to run without supervision. 

A lesson from this pandemic is that the internal governance of the country across all segments and states needed to be upgraded to a point where organisations in public or private sector would be audited for performance in terms of their compatibility with the national interests and public good.

There are many more lessons to be drawn from the pandemic India is passing through, creating the ‘fear of the unknown’ in every citizen here. The experience calls for a greater public education on governance and policy making — subject, of course, to the requirement of confidentiality on grounds of national security.

Robust functioning of Parliamentary Committees has to be ensured, accountability for failure of implementation of the given mandate on the head of an enterprise or a department of the government has to be fixed and punishment meted out to functionaries in leadership positions who misused the authority of the state for personal benefit.

The Intelligence machinery of the Centre has once again proved its sterling worth by acting as the eyes and ears of the government to give an objective picture of the impact of the pandemic — it should be strengthened further in the interest of the nation and democratic governance.

Perhaps the most meaningful lesson in handling a national emergency that affected the entire population is that the process should be taken down to the level of districts and the DM-SP duo made the nodal point of ‘survey’ and ‘implementation’. Some of the districts of India are of the size of a small country and they offer a decentralised autonomous centre of governance closest to the people that could represent both the Centre as well as the state government. 

It is a matter of great satisfaction that Prime Minister Modi himself reached out to the district magistrates of affected districts and encouraged them to take charge of the situation and boldly plan out the strategy of meeting the challenge of the Corona crisis on a long-term basis.

(The opinion appeared in IANS)

The most meaningful lesson in handling a national emergency is that the process should be taken down to the level of districts and the DM-SP duo made the nodal point of ‘survey’ and ‘implementation’

As the government proceeds at a rapid pace to make up for deficiencies and arrange for universal vaccination, the role of the people in countering the pandemic is still going to be extremely important in the months to come.

Read More
India Latest News

Devise Covid strategy in rural, urban specific way: Modi

New Delhi: In order to ensure a Covid-free rural India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday asked a group of District Magistrates (DMs) to devise their strategies in rural and urban specific manner.

Noting that coronavirus has made their job more demanding and challenging, the Prime Minister urged everyone to ensure full commitment to fight the pandemic.

The Prime Minister expressed his views while interacting with the state and district officials on the Covid-19 situation through a video conference. In the virtual meeting, Modi interacted with the DMs of 54 districts across 10 states — the second such interaction involving the Prime Minister on the Covid situation.

The Prime Minister held a similar interaction with the DMs of 46 districts with high Covid burden on Tuesday.

Speaking on the occasion, Modi said: “In the midst of these new challenges, new strategies and solutions are needed.”

Mentioning that over the past few days, active cases have started to reduce in the country, the Prime Minister warned that the challenge remains as long as this infection is present, even on a minor scale.

Modi stressed on the need to use local experiences and work together as a country, saying that there is a need to spread messages on keeping villages corona-free and following all Covid-appropriate behaviour, even when cases are declining.

Stating that every epidemic has taught us the importance of continuous innovation, the Prime Minister emphasised that the methods and strategies to deal with the pandemic should be dynamic as the virus is expert in mutation and changing form.

Modi also said that the virus mutation is concerning the youth and children, as he stressed on the need to boost the vaccination drive.

The Prime Minister added that the vaccination strategy is also being pushed forward by incorporating suggestions from the states and various stakeholders at all levels.

On vaccine wastage, Modi said that wastage of a single vaccine means not being able to provide necessary security to an individual. Therefore, one should make a conscious effort to stop vaccine wastage, he said.

The Prime Minister also emphasised the priority of easing the lives of citizens while saving lives and said that added facilities for free ration for the poor, and other essential supplies must be provided, and black marketing should be stopped.

Modi said these steps are necessary to win this fight and move forward.

Read More
International Latest News

India’s vaccine policy needs an urgent reset

By Chandrakant Lahariya

India has four decades of experience in running a national immunisation programme for children and pregnant women. It has successfully conducted large-scale mass vaccination drives for many years for polio elimination. Therefore, there was every reason to believe it could deliver Covid-19 vaccines efficiently; however, the ongoing drive in India is faltering (and even that is an understatement).

The initial challenge of vaccine hesitancy was soon replaced by that of short supply (from early April onwards); with the opening of Covid-19 vaccination for all adults in the 18-44 age group, everyone, including those above 45 years, is finding it difficult to get vaccinated. The daily vaccination rate has come down to around two million doses, nearly half the vaccination rate at its peak in April.

A successful vaccination drive is the outcome of assured supply, simplified policies and an adaptive delivery approach. All countries across the world first secured vaccine supply and then opened up the vaccination in a graded manner for various population groups. The United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union started to secure supplies by the middle of 2020.

India seems to have erred at many steps in this process. It placed the first order with vaccine manufacturers, just a few days before the launch of the vaccination drive on January 16. Nearly 940 million people are eligible for vaccination and the current total vaccine production in India is 70-80 million doses a month. A few weeks ago, the Centre placed fresh orders for a total of 160 million doses for May, June and July, which will be used for the 45-plus age group.

Can India be assured of increase in vaccine supply by July 2021? It is unlikely to be to the extent of 150 million doses a month as is being suggested. A large manufacturer in India planned to have a monthly production capacity of 100 million doses by January, a timeline which has now been shifted to July. After all, vaccine manufacturing and scaling up are complex processes and an ambitious timeline does not always work. The situation of other manufacturers is likely to be similar. The contribution of vaccine imports will be marginal to the overall supply for India.

All policy options and delivery strategies should be re-examined and simplified. 

The increase in the gap between the two doses of Covishield, announced last week, and which was being suggested by many for months, is one such. There are others. Which population group can be safely asked to wait for their vaccine shots? Can vaccination for any age group (18-30 years) be put on hold till assured supply? Some of these are controversial questions – but they need to be addressed.

For six weeks now, India’s vaccination drive has been struggling. How long must one wait before acknowledging that what was planned is not working? It is often said that Indian policymakers have mastered the art of drafting policies, which, while being perfect on paper, are poorly implemented on the ground. India’s Covid-19 vaccination efforts have areas for improvement, both in policy and implementation. The government should do all that is needed to make it work, here and now.

(The opinion piece appeared in The Hindustan Times)

Read More
coronavirus India Latest News

DCGI allows clinical trial of Covaxin on 2 to 18-yr-old

New Delhi: The Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) has accorded permission to conduct the Phase II-III clinical trial of Covaxin (Covid vaccine) in the age group of two to 18-years-old to its manufacturer Bharat Biotech Ltd, Union Health Ministry said.

“The trial will be conducted on 525 healthy volunteers,” said the Ministry.

In the trial, the Ministry said, the vaccine will be given by intramuscular route in two doses at day 0 and day 28.

After careful examination, the DCGI accepted the recommendation of the Subject Expert Committee (SEC). The national drug regulator of the country gave the approval to conduct the clinical trial in the youngest age group till now paving way for them to be saved from the deadly pandemic outbreak.

Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech International Ltd (BBIL) had proposed to carry out a Phase II-III clinical trial of Covaxin in the age group of two to 18 years.

As a rapid regulatory response, the proposal was deliberated in the Subject Expert Committee (SEC) (Covid-19) on May 11 this year.

The committee after detailed deliberation recommended grant of permission to conduct proposed Phase II-III clinical trials to certain conditions.

Read More
coronavirus Latest News

To beat the second wave, understand it

By Partha Mukhopadhyay

It would be comic if it were not so deathly serious. The home-grown variant B.1.617 was visible in the United Kingdom (UK) in February, when it was claimed surges were not due to new strains. Cabinet ministers derided an Opposition politician for suggesting an expanded vaccine portfolio, labelling him a broker for pharmaceutical firms, before expanding the portfolio three days later. 

Apparently, there is no shortage, but states are shutting down vaccination centres. An empowered group of senior officers says there is no oxygen shortage, but the Prime Minister’s Office cancels a meeting with a key international visitor to review the situation.

All these point to tightly controlled information, unhelpful to transparent and collective pandemic management. What information can be released to help combat the pandemic?

First, the share of antigen tests available with Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). This is an imperfect measure of missed infections, due to the nature of the test. Cities and districts with higher share of antigen tests need more attention because it’s likely that they may be missing infected people, who go on to infect others.

Second, the reasons for testing (also with ICMR) — of self-testing, surveillance (e.g. fever clinics) contact tracing, etc — some indicate under-detection. A high share of contact tracing is better than high self-reporting, which depends on an individual’s intent to test.

Third, the proportion of different variants (from the Indian Sars-CoV-2 Consortium on Genomics, hopefully better-funded now). Punjab reported a high share of the UK variant, B.1.117. This does not have an immune-escape mutation and is thus more responsive to vaccination. In Maharashtra and other states with a high share of B.1.617, immunisation may reduce the severity of infection but it may not stop the infection itself, as it has a possible immune-escape mutation. This has implications for disease management and how the benefits of immunisation are communicated. If a large number of people get infected after immunisation, then vaccine hesitancy may rise, affecting the expansion of vaccination.

Fourth, the location of cases (from analysis of ICMR data and states’ administrative reports). Whether it is big cities, small towns or rural areas matters for the spread and plans to move people and materials to manage the pandemic. Sketchy data from Maharashtra seems to indicate a move away from the bigger cities, but it is unclear whether it is to smaller towns, peri-urban areas or villages. This can also matter for the geographical prioritisation of vaccination.

Fifth, the age structure of cases (from ICMR) and deaths (from states). We are assuming that younger people are less likely to have severe disease and this underpins our vaccination strategy. It seems that young people are getting infected in this surge, but not much. Numbers from Mumbai indicate that the share of those below 50 is now around 65%, whereas previously it was around 57%. Is this related to vaccination or the variant?

There is need to build vaccine-confidence by reporting adverse events following immunisation (AEFI), currently not released with the vaccination data. Some cases of blood clots from the AstraZeneca (Covishield) and the Janssen vaccine (which share a common viral vector platform with Sputnik V) have been reported internationally. With over a 100 million vaccinations in India, it is unusual not to see such reports here. This does not breed vaccine-confidence — rather, it increases the likelihood of misinformation increasing vaccine hesitancy because the government is seen as trying to conceal negative information.

The media must ask far more questions and not accept “trust us”. If governments are pushed to answer, they may be forced to think. It is time for them to trust us.

(The Op-Ed appeared in The Hindustan Times)

Read More
coronavirus India Latest News

Covid situation gets grim in India, weekend curfews ordered

New Delhi: India reported 2,00,739 new Covid-19 cases in the last 24 hours, the biggest single-day spike ever, taking the overall tally to 1,40,74,564, cases on Thursday, according to the Health Ministry data.

India’s daily deaths due to Covid are also rising with 1,038 new deaths reported on Thursday, the second consecutive day with over thousand deaths. This took the overall death toll in the country to 1,73,123.

A total of 93,528 patients recovered in the same time span, taking the number of recoveries to 1,24,29,564 with a recovery rate of 88.31 per cent.

The Health Ministry said that a total of 13,84,549 samples were tested in the last 24 hours.

According to the government data, a total of 33,13,848 people were also vaccinated in the same period, taking the total inoculation count to 11,44,93,238.

Delhi recorded a new high daily Covid tally of 17,282, as well as 104 deaths, while the number of active cases crossed the 50,000-mark to reach 50,736, according to the government’s health bulletin.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Thursday announced a weekend curfew in the national capital to break the chain of Covid-19 pandemic, which has shown an uptrend for the past few days.

“It is unanimously decided to impose weekend curfew because people normally visit outside their homes for entertainment or other activities which can be curtailed. The restriction may not create much problem to the people. The purpose is to break the chain of Covid infection on weekends,” Kejriwal said.

Kejriwal, however, clarified that essential services like visiting hospitals, railway stations and airports will not be hampered. Besides, the marriages, which are already fixed, will not face any kind of difficulties, he said.

Kejriwal further announced that Malls, Gyms, Spas and Auditoriums will be closed during the restrictions, and cinema halls will be allowed to run with 30 per cent capacity.

Read More