While it is heartening that on the first day of the new vaccination policy, over 85 lakh doses of Covid-19 vaccines were administered, a record single-day inoculation, it is still not enough to reach the goal of covering the entire adult population by the end of this year. In fact, over 80% of the doses administered are the first shot of the two-dose regimen. India needs to administer a minimum of one crore doses a day to inoculate its 95-crore adult population by December. Even five months after launching the vaccination drive, the vaccine shortage issue remains unresolved. As a result, only 3.6% of India’s population is fully vaccinated as against 45% in the United Kingdom. There is still no progress on importing foreign vaccines to supplement the domestic vaccines and improve the coverage. The success of the vaccination programme will hinge on Centre-State coordination, fixing the distribution bottlenecks, ramping up production and quickly procuring vaccines from all possible sources. Already, India has lost precious time as it was caught in a flawed vaccination policy marked by lopsided distribution and differential pricing. It is only after the Supreme Court’s prodding and criticism that the Centre has chalked out a new policy under which it purchases 75% of the vaccines produced by the manufacturers and distributes to States free of cost, based on their population, disease burden and vaccination progress, with the remaining 25% production is allocated for private hospitals.
Apart from increasing availability, another challenge confronting the government is the vaccine hesitancy among a section of people, particularly in rural areas. This results from misplaced apprehensions about adverse side-effects. There is a need for all parties to come together and use their cadre networks to promote public awareness that the only way out of this pandemic is to ensure universal vaccination. Speeding up inoculation coverage is the only weapon to ward off the third wave. While it is an encouraging sign that over 70% of the districts across the country are reporting less than 5% positivity rate, lack of clarity on what levels of herd immunity in a population would be sufficient to overcome the pandemic remains a matter of concern. The population immunity for diseases like polio and measles has a clear threshold, but there is no such clarity in the case of the coronavirus. Community ownership of Covid-appropriate behaviour is needed to prevent the third wave. Vaccinating India’s entire population is a mammoth task that requires dedicated work at all levels and smooth coordination. The first and the second waves of the pandemic inflicted massive destruction in terms of loss of life and livelihood. The lessons learnt from them must help us in averting another catastrophe.
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