mRNA vaccines: Effective yet inaccessible, unaffordable

Covid-19 Health

Scientists preferred mRNA vaccines for pregnant women as they provide better immunological protection for both the mother and her breastfed infant.

Divya Bedi, a resident of Faridabad was pregnant in 2021 when she got vaccinated with Covishield against corona virus. She had tested Covid positive few months after her twin daughters were born.    Managing them with Covid-19 proved to be a daunting task for her. “Isolation is never easy and being isolated, sick with babies was a nightmare,” she said. Positivity and her family’s support saw her through this period of hardship. “Somehow, through my husband and family’s help, I recovered from the virus,” she said.

She added that when she took the vaccination against Covid, mRNA vaccines weren’t available in the market. Knowing that they are more effective in warding off the virus, she said that mRNA vaccines must be made accessible to all pregnant women in India.

“The first mRNA vaccine against Covid-19 in India is still in the trial phase,” said Neeru Chaudhary a public health analyst who interned with the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunization (NTAGI). She added that there is a lack in studies available for the use of mRNA vaccines for pregnant women in India.

A Lancet study comparing human milk antibody response after vaccination has found that mRNA-based vaccines against Covid-19 provide better immunological protection for the mother and   breastfed infant. But in India, their use is largely restricted.

Dr. Dhaneshwar Kumar, a viral immunologist recommended mRNA vaccines which provide better protection against corona virus, however, he said, “They are big-ticket among available vaccines in the market and are not affordable for all.”

Scientists studied the antibody response in human milk following vaccination with mRNA and vector-based vaccines for more than two months post-vaccination. They found that vaccination during lactation with an mRNA-based vaccine provided a higher antibody response in human milk against corona virus in comparison to the vector-based vaccine.

But in India, mRNA vaccines aren’t being used on a wider scale even for pregnant women. They remain largely expensive and inaccessible.

Stany Mathew, a health economist said that a cost-effectiveness analysis of the mRNA vaccine has to be done in India. Along with that a policy report has to be submitted to the government for implementing free mRNA vaccinations for pregnant women in India. He added that since the families living in poverty are those having the most children, free vaccination would be a cost-effective method for preventing the disease.

A report from Ministry of Health and Family Welfare found that pregnant women with symptomatic Covid-19 are at increased risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes when compared with those without Covid-19. Covid-19 could result in admission to the ICU, preterm birth, caesarean section and death. A pre-term birth further increases the possibility of hospitalization for the newborn and in some cases even death.