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India has been at the forefront of the COVID-19 vaccination race right from the early stages of the pandemic. And now, with the country’s national vaccination program underway at a terrific speed, lakhs of Indians are getting inoculated against the deadly virus every day.

The success of India’s vaccination strategy can be greatly attributed to its major vaccine producers: Serum Institute of India, based in Pune, and Hyderabad’s Bharat Biotech. The two companies are manufacturing millions of vials of COVID-19 vaccine, not only for the Indian government but for other countries as well.

But how exactly do these two vaccine candidates weigh up against each other? Is one better than the other? Which one should you take?

How do the vaccines work?

There are four distinct types of COVID vaccine available, namely, whole virus (this can again be a weakened form or inactivated coronavirus), protein subunit, nucleic acid (RNA or DNA), and viral vector.

The Covishield is based on the viral vector platform. In simple terms, it is made from a weakened version of a common cold virus, called adenovirus, from chimpanzees and has been modified to look more like coronavirus.

On the other hand, Covaxin is an inactivated vaccine. It contains the dead virus, which prompts an immune response but doesn’t infect or make the person sick.

Both the vaccines require two doses given 28 days apart and can be stored at a normal refrigerator temperature of 2-8 degrees celsius.

Which vaccine is more effective?

Both the vaccines have shown promising results in their respective clinical trials.

The peer-reviewed results of the Phase-III trials of the Covishield show that it is up to 90% effective. The results also revealed that the vaccine was only 62% effective when participants were given two full doses, but its efficacy rose to 90% when a half dose followed by a full dose was administered. In all likelihood, the vaccine will be effective against the new strain as well.

Bharat Biotech and Ocugen jointly announced that Covaxin demonstrated efficacy of 80.6% in the Phase 3 trials. The vaccine can induce antibodies that can neutralize even the UK strain and other heterologous strains.

How safe are they and what are the side-effects?

The one aspect where Covaxin has an obvious edge is the eligible age group. Covaxin can be administered to anyone over 12 years of age, while Covishield has been deemed safe only for those above 18 years of age.

Covishield does have a few side-effects, such as pain, redness, itching, swelling or bruising, feeling unwell, fatigue, chills, fever, headache, nausea, joint pain, and muscle ache, but they are mostly mild to moderate in nature and can be treated with over-the-counter pills.
It is also known to have triggered allergic reactions like itchy skin rash, shortness of breath, and swelling of the face or tongue, so if you have a history of allergies, it is advisable to consult with a doctor first.

Along similar lines, Covaxin too has induced side-effects including site pain, injection site swelling, injection site redness, injection site itching, stiffness in the upper arm, weakness in the injection arm, body ache, headache, fever, malaise, weakness, rashes, nausea, vomiting.
However, Covaxin is less likely to cause any allergic reaction.

While taking either of the vaccines, it is best to let your vaccine provider know beforehand if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, immune-compromised, or facing any other serious health-related issue.

Price

For the Indian Government, there will not be much of a price difference between Covishield and Covaxin.

The Serum Institute will be supplying the 110 lakh doses to India for INR 200 each. The government will also procure 55 lakh doses from Bharat Biotech, roughly at a cost of INR 206 each.

Note that as of now, however, both the vaccines are being administered free of cost to citizens.

Which is better?

While Covishield and Covaxin come with their own pros and cons, there is no one better than the other.

Both are equally safe to use and have been recommended only after careful consideration by the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI).

In light of the present situation, what matters the most is being inoculated against the coronavirus, irrespective of which vaccine has been administered. Moreover, the Indian government hasn’t given its citizens the choice to select which vaccine jab they want to be given.

So the best way forward is simply to register yourself on Aarogya Setu and get vaccinated as soon as possible, regardless of Covishield or Covaxin.