Immunisation, also known as vaccination, is a crucial tool in preventing and controlling the spread of infectious diseases as it involves administering a vaccine, which is a preparation containing weakened or inactivated microorganisms or parts of microorganisms, to stimulate the immune system to produce a protective response against specific diseases. In other words, immunisation aims to protect individuals from infectious diseases by providing immunity without the person having to experience the actual disease and thereby helps prevent illness, complications and even death associated with these diseases.
When a significant proportion of the population is vaccinated against a disease, it reduces its spread and protects vulnerable individuals who cannot be vaccinated, such as infants, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems. Immunisation in India is a critical component of the country’s public health programs and the Government of India, through the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, implements the Universal Immunisation Program (UIP) to provide free immunisation services to all eligible individuals, particularly children and pregnant women.
Although India has launched one of the world’s largest vaccination drives to inoculate its vast population during the Covid-19, myths and misconceptions around vaccination continue to persist. In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Dr Vishal Sehgal, President at Portea Medical, shared, “The core idea behind giving a vaccine is to introduce a weakened or inactive form of a pathogen into the body to stimulate antibody production. The production of these antibodies facilitate a more rapid immune response to disease-causing agents. Failure to vaccinate may result in delayed immune response times, with potentially fatal consequences as observed in cases such as measles and whooping cough.”
According to him, some of the common myths in India are –
- Vaccines are harmful and can cause autism, infertility or other adverse effects.
- Natural immunity is better than immunity from vaccines.
- Vaccines are a Western conspiracy to depopulate developing countries.
- Vaccines are not needed since infectious diseases have been eradicated.
- Vaccines can weaken the immune system and make people more susceptible to infections.
He suggested, “Effective dissemination of fact-based information is crucial in eliminating vaccine hesitancy and addressing the five Cs- Confidence, Complacency, Convenience, Communication and Context. Regular monitoring of health conditions through Point-of-Care (POC) diagnostics is vital in determining the success of immunization and medical services. The government has made it mandatory for every hospital and primary healthcare centre under its regulation to conduct regular immunization drives. Several multi-purpose health workers and social health activists also go about promoting and canvassing the benefits of this immunization programme among rural communities. The need of the hour is for both public and private stakeholders to come together and address the challenges around awareness and eliminate the prevalent myths.”
Runam Mehta, CEO at HealthCube, revealed, “The challenges in vaccinating the large population in India include limited access, hoarding of vaccines by wealthy nations, and vaccine inequity. Apart from addressing these issues, it is also important to spread awareness through fact-based information and eliminate myths about vaccination. Vaccine hesitancy is a recurring challenge and a roadblock in achieving the goal of universal healthcare. The major reasons are lack of trust in the quality and effectiveness of the vaccines, misinformation about side effects and also, cultural and religious beliefs.”
She recommended, “Apart from this, to determine the success of immunization and medical services, regular monitoring of health conditions through POC diagnostics is essential. POC diagnostics can help detect and manage vaccine-preventable diseases, while regular monitoring can provide evidence of the effectiveness of immunisation programs, building confidence and trust among the population. The government has been proactively taking steps to introduce policies that support POC diagnostics, vaccination, and continuous healthcare monitoring through telemedicine practices aiming to aim to improve healthcare accessibility and delivery, especially in the remotest corners of India, ultimately helping to address vaccine hesitancy, spread awareness and improve immunisation coverage.”