(Focus - India)
In the face of ongoing global health challenges, the importance of vaccination has become increasingly evident. Vaccines play a pivotal role in enhancing immunity and curbing the spread of diseases, making them crucial components of our response to current health threats. Unfortunately, skepticism towards vaccines, economic disparities, inadequate healthcare facilities, and logistical obstacles present substantial challenges to achieving widespread vaccination coverage.
To learn more about the current landscape of vaccination and address prevailing concerns, we have interviewed Dr. Sumana, an infectious disease specialist from India and an esteemed editorial board member of the journal of immunology and vaccine technology.
Dr. Sumana provided valuable insights into the challenges and opportunities surrounding vaccination and underscored the crucial role of healthcare professionals and public health initiatives in tackling these challenges.
Dr. Sumana is an Infectious Disease Specialist currently serving at JSS Medical College, Mysore, Karnataka, India.
We can target the children in schools and raise awareness among them regarding vaccinations. We can have some vaccination days or vaccination awareness campaigns. Children are more receptive than adults. We can have vaccination camps in schools and even colleges for adolescents. It will essentially be an outreach program. A vaccine reminder system will also be helpful.
Despite the positive results of the immunization program, a rising percentage of people appear to believe it is hazardous and unneeded ,. How do you respond to such claims and reassure patients who may have concerns?
Dr. Sumana - Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of people got vaccinated, and some developed adverse events. Everyone was under the impression that the vaccination can give you 100% protection against the virus. Patients usually do not understand that vaccination reduces the severity and does not make the disease entirely go away. But when they understood that it doesn't protect 100% and only reduces the severity, some individuals hesitated to get vaccinated. That is the kind of attitude that patients and the various populations have. So, we need to reassure the patients and give them more education. Education is very important.
Could you also comment on the role of the National Immunization program in addressing vaccine hesitancy?
Dr. Sumana - The program essentially promotes the vaccination but not the education on vaccination. There needs to be more education regarding vaccination, so people know how they can be protected from deadly diseases. The schedules are changing, and so are the protocols. There are a lot of vaccines for adults because quite a few diseases, like diphtheria, are becoming increasingly common in adults as opposed to children. Adults feel that there is no need to get vaccinated once the childhood vaccination is done. Medical professionals also think like that. There are so many vaccines these days that people really do not understand when to take what vaccine.
What other measures are in place to ensure that vaccine coverage rates remain high in India?
Dr. Sumana - We can target the children in schools and raise awareness among them regarding vaccinations. We can have some vaccination days or vaccination awareness campaigns. Children are more receptive than adults. We can have vaccination camps in schools and even colleges for adolescents. It will essentially be an outreach program. A vaccine reminder system will also be helpful.
The existing vaccine paradigm assumes that vaccines only protect against the target infection . However, some research contradicting this says that vaccines improve the overall health of a patient as well. What are your thoughts on effects of vaccines in improving the overall health of patients?
Dr. Sumana - Some vaccines can also boost general immunity. An example of that would be the BCG vaccine, which provides protection against COVID. These vaccines can stimulate both humoral immune response and cell-mediated immune response. There will be some cross-immunity to various other diseases as well.
We can work together, and polio is almost eradicated from India. The major concern in our country is tuberculosis. Although we have an effective vaccine now, and BCG can protect us from various complications, it still does not provide the kind of protection that is required in our country. Working together will bring in more awareness and outreach.
What new developments or research in the field of vaccination are you most excited about, and how do you think they will impact public health in India?
Dr. Sumana - I am extremely excited about the Dengue, the m-RNA, and DNA vaccines. We must wait and watch the long-term effect of m-RNA vaccines prepared against COVID-19.
These vaccines will impact public health in India to a great extent because the country is extremely populous. Due to the tropical nature of the country, infections thrive much better here than in any other place on Earth. So, the transmission high, and vaccinations can prevent many catastrophes.
I am also looking forward to the vaccines being made against cancer. They could potentially be life changing. There are so many common malignancies like breast cancer, ovarian cancer, cervical cancer, and prostate cancer, and if some vaccines are developed, they can be game-changing. Hepatitis B vaccines can prevent hepatocellular carcinoma as well.
However, the general public is very confused because there are so many vaccines. People only talk about the minor adverse effects of the vaccines. Even if one or two adverse events are reported, that comes into the limelight. During the COVID-19 pandemic, although people were vaccinated, they were still infected. There are many negatives about the effects of the vaccines. Due to that, the acceptance rate is also low.
As you mentioned, there were misconceptions about COVID-19 vaccines initially. Can you comment more on factors that influenced the acceptance or refusal of COVID-19 vaccination in India?
Dr. Sumana - When the pandemic started, people were very afraid. Once they realized that the vaccine could not give them 100% protection and there were a few reported adverse events, there was a refusal to take the vaccine, which is why the acceptance rate was low. People do not understand the advantages of the vaccine and the number of clinical trials that have been conducted to confirm its safety. They cannot understand all the efforts taken behind the scenes before a vaccine is introduced.
What approaches did you or your institution take to create awareness among the public?
Dr. Sumana - Every year, we conduct a medical or health exhibition at a rural fair that 5 to 6 lakh people visit. We also raise awareness about vaccination. We also raise awareness about other diseases, like diabetes, hypertension, common infections, and tuberculosis.
According to you, how can healthcare providers and public health agencies work together to eradicate polio and other life-threatening diseases in India?
Dr. Sumana - We can work together, and polio is almost eradicated from India. The major concern in our country is tuberculosis. Although we have an effective vaccine now, and BCG can protect us from various complications, it still does not provide the kind of protection that is required in our country. Working together will bring in more awareness and outreach.
Thank you for your valuable insights!