'Give Vaccine to All Who Desire it and Deserve it': Dr Salunkhe

'No vaccine on earth ca guarantee you 100% protection,' says Dr Salunkhe.

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Union health secretary Rajesh Bhushan said on Tuesday that the government is prioritising COVID vaccines for those who need it, not those who want it. The clamour for opening up vaccines for all is gaining ground, and several states have written to the PMO for permission to vaccinate all above 18.

In the state of Maharashtra, the worst-hit state in the country right now, experts are asking why vaccines are being restricted.

FIT speaks with Dr Subhash R Salunkhe, technical advisor to the government of Maharashtra, on the state's strategy to tackle the surge and vaccinations.

How do you see the situation in Maharashtra right now? Is there an end in sight?

Dr Salunke: At this juncture as of today, as anticipated, we are on the rising curve, and that means we are getting more cases day by day and this curve will continue to rise for the next two weeks.

When you see one positive case, there are at least 25 times the number of cases who are positive but who have not been detected.

For example, in Pune if there are 8,000 new cases, multiply it by 25 times, that comes to 2 Lakh cases. So two hundred thousand people in Pune are now likely to be positive.

Some of them are super spreaders and they transmit more. Please note that in the next two to three weeks we are going to see an upward trend, unless we intervene. If we don’t do anything, the curve will keep going up.”

Why are we hearing about people getting infected after taking their vaccination?

Dr Salunke: First and foremost let us understand, vaccine alone or vaccination as a stand alone strategy will not work. Because if you and I take vaccine today, I am not going to get protected tomorrow. It takes a long time to build immunity and even after immunity is built up, I will still not be fully protected.

Take my own case, I took two doses of vaccination and still got COVID. Now, that is because antibodies which are in my body may not protect the virus from entering my nose or lodging in my throat. Inspite of proper dosaging 15% to 20% people will get infected.

No vaccine on earth can guarantee you 100% protection. That doesn’t happen.

Where are we going wrong with vaccinations?

Dr Salunke: We knew that if we want to make a dent in this particular pandemic, 30 crore Indian need to be vaccinated in a span of three months. And for 30 crore people to be vaccinated, we need 60 crore doses.

Now why we could not calculate the simple mathematics, I don't understand. Why did we not rope in local manufacturers? Or import vaccines? I also have the same set of questions.

Is universal vaccination the answer?

Dr Salunke: There is no need to vaccinate all 135 crore Indians. We need to vaccinate people where there is a peak of the outbreak, where the growth rate of this epidemic is high, where right now 40% positivity is occurring, for example in cities like Pune or Nashik.

In these cities give vaccination to everyone beyond the age of 18. At least start with those populations between 18 and 45 who have comorbidities. First I was saying that at least start will 45 plus. They have now accepted it after a delay of one and a half months.

Now I am insisting that please start with 18 years and above. If not, at least start with those who have comorbidities. If there is a 30-year-old young man or a woman having severe diabetes, what right do we have to say no, we won't give you a vaccine? It is unethical.

How we vaccinate all above 45 in 2 weeks?

Dr Salunke: Mobile vaccination center approach is an old one. We have done it.

As Director, Health Services, Maharashtra, I have vaccinated large number of children via mobile units. At each sub center we have ensured there are ambulances that are fully equipped to treat and manage anaphylactic reaction. If we do that, it is possible. The bottom line is, give access to the vaccine to everyone who desires it or who deserves it.

What we need to do is use community leaders as the motivators, rope in those who can advocate and let them help us to mobilize the community, so that everyone is brought to the centre.

Everyone is given the facility and access to this vaccine, and those who are unwilling or have doubts, we should answer their questions.

Those municipal corporations or municipal councils or the district authorities who fail to do that are not worth their salt.

We have to do this. There is no alternative. Let us do it in a mission mode.

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