Covid-19 vaccination drive must be speeded up

Covid-19 vaccination drive must be speeded up

FILE PHOTO: Indian Health Minister Harsh Vardhan holds a dose of Bharat Biotech's COVID-19 vaccine called COVAXIN, during a vaccination campaign at All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) hospital in New Delhi, India, January 16, 2021. REUTERS/Adn

The government’s claim that India is the second-fastest country to achieve 10 million Covid-19 vaccinations needs to be seen in perspective. While the number is big, it is only about 0.7% of the 1.3 billion population.

Seen in this light, it becomes worrying that the immunisation drive is moving at a slow pace. After medical professionals, it is now the turn of frontline workers to get the first dose of vaccination, but only about 50% of the target has been met due to vaccine hesitancy among the priority section.

The situation is no better in Karnataka, with Bengaluru faring even poorly. Due to the poor response, many states find no need to requisition additional stocks of vaccines for now as those allotted in the first round itself are yet to be utilised.

Among the reasons for vaccine hesitancy is the apprehension over potential long-term side effects of the vaccines. Vaccine development usually takes several years, but the Covid-19 vaccines were developed in less than a year and were approved for emergency use even before all trials and data had been fully evaluated. The government has been at pains to assure people that both the vaccines currently available in the country are safe and efficacious, but this has not cut much ice.

Rumours such as that South Africa had decided to send back one million doses of vaccines procured from India, since denied by South Africa, have only complicated matters. With Covid-19 cases falling drastically, except in Kerala and Maharashtra, the general feeling is that the worst is over and there is no need to get vaccinated.

Oddly, one more reason for the hesitancy is the rumour that those injected have to abstain from alcohol for at least three months. With such poor response from the medical fraternity itself, it now remains to be seen how the general public will receive the vaccines.

Nonetheless, there are many, especially among vulnerable groups like senior citizens, who are keen to take the jab. The government should make vaccines available to them immediately. Besides, with the low demand, the existing stocks are staring at an expiry date in May. Industry captains, including Azim Premji, have suggested involving the private sector to achieve a coverage of 500 million people within 60 days.

This may be too ambitious but with the involvement of the private sector, the vaccination drive can certainly be speeded up. Of course, this must be done with abundant precaution. For one, the government must cap the price of vaccination, to about Rs 400 as Premji suggested, to ensure that private hospitals do not indulge in profiteering. The government will also have to ensure that vaccines are not diverted for profits.

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox

Check out all newsletters

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox