Kerala starts COVID-19 vaccination; doubts, hesitancy, ignorance linger

The state will be holding back half of the vaccine stock it has received due to a shortfall

By Rejimon Kuttappan
Published: Sunday 17 January 2021

Vaccination being done in Palakkad. Photo: Rejimon KuttappanKerala started its vaccination drive against the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) January 16, 2021 amid a shortfall of vaccine stock and doubts about the efficacy of the vaccines.

The state will hold back half of the total novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine stock it has received due to a shortfall, state health minister KK Shailaja announced late January 15, 2021. Kerala has received 433,500 doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca’s ‘Covishield’ vaccine.

“Around 0.33 million healthcare workers have registered for vaccination across the state. As we have to provide two doses in a gap of 28 days, we will be needing 6.6 lakh doses,” GS Vijayakrishnan, general secretary of the Kerala Gazetted Medical Officer Association, told this reporter January 16.

“Currently, we are short of around two lakh doses. Hence, we will not be able to vaccinate all healthcare workers now. This is the reason why the state is holding back half of the doses,” he added. 

Number of vaccine doses distributed in Kerala
Thiruvananthapuram 64,020
Kollam 25,960
Pathanamthitta 21,030
Alappuzha 22,460
Kottayam 29,170
Idukki 9,240
Ernakulam 73,000
Thrissur 37,640
Palakkad 30,870
Malappuram 28,890
Kozhikode 40,970
Wayanad 9,590
Kannur 32,650
Kasaragod 6,860

On the first day of vaccination January 16, some 8,062 people were inoculated. The plan had been to inoculate 11,138 people at 133 centers.  Shailaja said in a statement late in the evening of January 16 that nobody had shown any side effects of vaccination.

Shailaja’s statement had said there were 12 vaccination centres in Ernakulam as well as  11 in Kozhikode and Thiruvananthapuram districts each. “In the rest of the districts, there are nine centres each,” the statement added.

There will be five officers in each vaccination center, a senior official from the health ministry told this reporter.

“There would be a waiting room, a vaccination room and an observation room in each centre. In the waiting room, the first officer would check the identity of the applicant. The second officer will match the applicant details with the CoWin app.

Crowd management, sensitisation session at observation, adverse events following immunisation kit observation will be done by third and fourth officers. The vaccination officer, the fifth official, will administer the vaccine,” the official added.

Concerns remain

Philip Mathew, a consultant at ReAct, a global network dedicated to the problem of antibiotic resistance, said healthcare professionals in Kerala were concerned about both vaccines approved by the Indian government.

Number of healthcare workers vaccinated on the first day
Palakkad 857
Alappuzha 616
Ernakulam 711
Idukki 296
Kannur 706
Kasaragod 323
Kollam 668
Kottayam 610
Kozhikode 800
Malappuram 155
Pathanamthitta 592
Thiruvananthapuram 763
Thrissur 633
Wayanad 332

“Many Kerala healthcare workers, even doctors, are unclear whether to stand with Oxford-AstraZeneca’s Covishield or Bharat Biotech International Ltd’s Covaxin. A few are compelled to say okay for Covishield because its trials are completed and the results are out. But a few others say Covaxin cannot be ruled out as it is following a time-tested technology,” Philip, who is based in Kerala, said.

According to Philip, the Covaxin vaccine falls under the category of inactivated vaccines that are used to treat Hepatitis A, influenza and polio.

“This might be the reason why a few are agreeing for Covaxin. But we should not forget that Covaxin doesn’t have proven results while Covishield has,” Philip said, adding that he would prefer only Covishield.

An official statement from the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) January 3, 2021 had stated that “Covaxin’s Phase III efficacy trial was initiated in India among 25,800 volunteers and till date (January 3, 2021), some 22,000 participants have been vaccinated across the country. The vaccine is safe as per the data available till date.”

Anish TS, a healthcare professional in Thiruvananthapuram, said, “In Kerala, we have got Covishield as the first stock. We are expecting the same in the second stock too. If we get Covaxin in the second stock, it’s going to be a matter of concern, if the results are not out by then.”

Anish said there was less clarity among healthcare workers about Covaxin and Covishield.

“Some medics in Kerala are aware of the difference and efficacy. But many are not. There are concerns. Healthcare workers like ambulance drivers are not at all aware of the differences between the vaccines and their efficacies,” he added.

Kerala reported 5,960 new COVID-19 cases and 27 related deaths January 16, taking the infection count to 842,843 and the death toll to 3,442.

A statement from Kerala government said 5,011 people were cured of the virus January 16, taking the total number of recoveries in Kerala to 770,768. The active cases stood at 68,416.

As many as 64,908 samples were examined January 16. The test positivity rate stood at 9.19 per cent.

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