As India begins the rollout of the Covid vaccine on a scale that is the world’s largest, a galore of daunting challenges beckons authorities, the key among them being the need to ensure equitable distribution of the vaccine. In the first phase, the plan is to inoculate 30 crore people across four priority groups —healthcare staff, frontline workers, people aged above 50 years and those with significant comorbidities. The country needs well over 66 crore doses to cover the priority population. This is apart from the international commitments it needs to fulfil. As India puts into place the protocols for transportation, cold storage, distribution and monitoring of the vaccines, based on the feedback received during the nationwide dry run, it must also simultaneously make public a clear set of rules on the ‘how, where and who’ of getting the jabs. This is essential to ensure that no section of the population, particularly the elite and the privileged, jumps the queue, seeking preferential treatment. Though the government has promised that the priority sections would be covered first before including the healthier individuals at a later stage, the real test will lie in the efficacious implementation of the two-dose campaign. There are lessons to be learnt from other countries where the vaccination programme has already started. The UK and Switzerland have initially authorised only the public health sector to carry out the inoculation to ensure strict compliance with the priority list of beneficiaries.
Apart from the distribution challenges, one of the key tasks before the government is to put in place a transparent mechanism for registration and monitoring and also to remove any doubts in the minds of healthcare professionals about the fast-tracked vaccines. Hesitancy might only last for the first few days, after which people, including healthcare workers, might realise it’s worth giving a shot. Vaccines alone hold the key to ending the prolonged pandemic. The government must bolster public trust in the vaccination process. In a country where rumours and conspiracy theories against vaccines still find some takers, despite a successful record in universal immunisation programmes for decades, the politicisation of Covid-19 vaccination must be avoided at any cost. A mobile application, CoWIN, is being used to track the entire vaccination process, from the time a person registers for the shot to when they receive it to tracking the after-effects. There is a need to actively collaborate with private players in the logistics domain to ensure safe delivery of the vaccine within stipulated timelines and compliance parameters. Given its vast population and geographical size, India is set to face an elephantine logistics challenge regarding distribution, though it has the wherewithal for manufacturing the required number of doses.
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