Waiting for a “better” Covid-19 vaccine could be a potentially lethal mistake

Now is better than later.
Now is better than later.
Image: REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis
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As Indians sit down to register their eligible family members for the Covid-19 vaccine, one question dominates the decision to take the shot: Should one wait for better, more efficacious vaccines?

So far, India has only approved its homegrown Covaxin and Covishield, which is made in India using the master seed of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. Since Jan. 16, when the country began inoculating healthcare and frontline workers, a hesitancy over the safety and efficacy of vaccines has crept in.

For instance, the Indian drug authority chose to grant Covaxin an emergency use authorisation (EUA) “under clinical trial mode” without any data from phase 3 trials. American pharmaceutical company Pfizer decided to withdraw with its EUA application in India for the use of its mRNA vaccine, which is shown to be 90% effective against Covid-19. By comparison, the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine has an efficacy of above 63%.

But medical professionals warn that not taking the vaccine—whichever one may be available in India—is not a smart move.

“Waiting for a better vaccine would be a potentially lethal mistake. Almost all existing vaccines drastically reduce the odds of hospitalisation or death due to Covid-19. Take whichever vaccine you can when it’s your turn,” says Swapneil Parikh, co-founder of Covid-19 response startup and a practising internal medicine doctor.

Other doctors concur.

This is currently the World Health Organization’s guideline, too, which urges people to take whichever vaccine is available in their countries.

Globally, doctors believe that barring some side effects, a vaccine is better than no vaccine.

Experts also believe that most of the vaccines would need a booster shot because it isn’t entirely clear how long the immunity from the shots would last.

In this scenario, it is also possible that a person taking the two doses of Covaxin or Covishield now could later use another vaccine as a booster on the recommendation of their physician. Such a shot is called a “heterologous prime-boost,” according to Parikh. “Studies are underway into such a strategy. In the past, it has worked with other vaccines, so we can expect it will work with Covid-19 vaccines, too,” he says. “Taking Covishield or Covaxin today doesn’t preclude you from taking another vaccine in the future.”