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India needs to tackle vaccine hesitancy, trust issues — clinical scientist Gagandeep Kang

Speaking at a webinar, clinical scientist Gagandeep Kang noted that it could prove to be challenging to roll out vaccines in rural India that is fraught with misinformation.

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New Delhi: India has done little to address vaccine hesitancy and trust issues against clinical research in the country, which is making coronavirus vaccine trial recruitments difficult, noted clinical scientist Gagandeep Kang said.

Speaking at a webinar organised by the Department of Biotechnology Thursday, Kang, who is a professor at Christian Medical College in Tamil Nadu, said many people viewed participating in clinical trials similar to being treated as guinea pigs, which is causing significant delays in completing vaccine trials in India.

She added that once the vaccine is approved in India, rolling them out in certain rural populations may prove to be challenging due to the prevalent vaccine hesitancy.

According to Kang, rural India is fraught with misinformation about vaccines and India needs to be better prepared to deal with such instances of vaccine hesitancy.

Also read: How Modi govt plans to ensure uptake of Covid vaccine as India inches closer to rollout

‘India needs good vaccine efficacy trials’

Pankaj Patel, chairman of Cadila Healthcare, an Indian pharmaceutical firm, agreed with Kang’s assessment about the prevalent hesitancy in clinical trial participation.

He said while his company has aimed to recruit 30,000 volunteers for its vaccine trials, the process has been slow. Zydus Cadila started trials for its vaccine candidate at 60 sites across India in July.

On this, Kang said the country could have facilitated better communication to raise awareness about the vaccine trials to attract more volunteers.

Krishna Mohan, executive director of Bharat Biotech, which has developed India’s first indigenous vaccine Covaxin, added that India has done very few efficacy trials despite being the largest producer of vaccine.

Mohan said despite Bharat Biotech’s constant cooperation with Indian institutions and regulators, conducting the clinical trials for Covaxin has been very difficult.

He noted that there is a need to bring large scale efficacy trials to India in the future.

Kang also said large-scale efficacy of the vaccines in India is yet to be known, and trials have not been conducted for subgroups of populations, such as children.

“It is important now to design good efficacy studies in India,” she added.

Shahid Jameel, noted Indian virologist and professor at Ashoka University, also warned about the likelihood of the virus mutating into a “vaccine escaping” variant.

This has already happened in the past with the Hepatitis B vaccine, he noted.

Jameel said genome sequences must be monitored carefully to look out for any such mutations.

Also read: China approves first Covid vaccine, developed by Sinopharm, for general use


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