New Delhi: With the date to kickstart a mass inoculation drive against COVID-19 being announced, the country has officially begun the countdown for the rollout of COVID vaccines. However, as the date draws closer, scepticism toward the vaccines' safety among the healthcare workers, who are on the top of the priority list to get vaccinated, has increased.
Doctors told IANS that their fellow colleagues are approaching them with doubts regarding the safety aspect of the vaccines approved in India.
Suranjit Chatterjee, Senior Consultant Internal Medicine at Indraprastha Apollo Hospital, said that there is apprehension are among those who should be having apprehensions.
He informed that the part making people, including healthcare workers, worried, is the aspect of safety and side effects of the vaccines.
"The first question I get asked is whether the vaccines are safe. People including doctors are wary of the fact that the vaccines have come out so early. They are not able to fully rely on the safety the vaccines are supposed to provide," Chatterjee said.
Besides, the likeliness of having side-effects is also building more scepticism around acceptance of the vaccines, he added.
Neha Gupta, Infectious Diseases Specialist at Medanta Hospital, Gurugram, also said that patients and even people working in healthcare have concerns regarding side-effects of the COVID vaccines.
"Concerns such as fever and severe body ache post the vaccination are shared even by people of my fraternity despite working in close quarters with immunisation programmes," she added.
The doctors said that the reports of adverse events occurring abroad after vaccination have raised suspicion among the public as well the healthcare fraternity about the vaccines' safety.
Besides, the controversy around approval of Bharat Biotech's vaccine has further fuelled the existing apprehension.
Sonali Malhotra, ENT specialist at Centre-run Lady Hardinge Medical College, said that many of her colleagues are hesitant before taking the vaccine jab citing the adverse events being reported in countries where vaccination has started.
"They are particularly wary of the complications associated with the vaccine, especially the severe ones being reported elsewhere. My family members have also shown unwillingness for the vaccination fearing the side-effects that may follow," she told IANS.
However, Malhotra added that she is all in for the vaccination.
Chatterjee also said that people are sharing news articles and videos of some random self-proclaimed experts on social media claiming that vaccines are not safe or developed hurriedly.
"However, I don't find merit in such claims. They remain a rumour and people, especially healthcare workers should not go by them," he clarified.
"Doctors having apprehensions are not good for the public since we ought to lead the way," Chatterjee commented.
Neeraj Nischal, Associate Professor, Department of Medicine, AIIMS Delhi, informed that the side effects, also called the adverse events of a vaccine, are very common to occur and indicative of a fact that it is actually working.
"Vaccines help develop immunity by imitating an infection forcing the immune system to produce T-lymphocytes and antibodies. The process can cause minor symptoms (adverse events), such as fever, swelling or soreness at the injection site, which are normal and should be expected as the body builds immunity," he said.
Speaking on the safety aspect, Nischal agreed that the scepticism around vaccines' safety is bound to arise since the vaccines were developed at an extraordinary pace.
"However, the apprehension that corners were cut in the development are unfounded," he clarified.
"The technological advances and prior research steadfast the development process. The initial trials have confirmed that the vaccines are safe and well-tolerated," Nischal said.
Meanwhile, another query doctors have been frequently receiving is whether the vaccines would worsen the previous illnesses of the receivers.
"Many people, even among the healthcare workers, are suffering from comorbid conditions. They are afraid whether their blood pressure, sugar, or any other underlying condition would aggravate post inoculation," Chatterjee said.
Sanjay Roy, Head, Department of Community Medicine, AIIMS Delhi and the principal investigator of Bharat Biotech's COVID vaccine which is under phase 3 trial, said that the vaccines are safe and were approved after testing on all kinds of people, including patients with underlying health conditions.
"There's always a risk-benefit ratio involved in the development of any drug. Even Paracetamol tablets have side effects. However, the benefit of vaccines outnumber the side effects involved," he said.
Roy advised people read more read and research scientific literature to allay their fears about vaccines' safety.
"Rather than consuming information from unverified sources like social media and Whatsapp forwards, people should look for the same through reliable sources like medical journals, websites of government and ICMR, medical experts, and then take an informed decision," he added.
Nischal commented that "people should remember that the disease is deadly but the vaccine is not".