Is India ready for vaccinating citizens?

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Since both the Indian vaccines Covaxin and Covishield have now been officially approved for emergency use, the focus is on its distribution and prioritisation, which are still being worked out as a ‘work in progress’ due to many inherent difficulties in India’s vaccine drive against Covid-19. The known and unknown administrative issues may also crop up during the implementation of the drive requiring great alertness and quick response. The Serum Institute of India’s (SII) Covishield and Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin formally cleared by the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) has enabled the country to launch the vaccination drive simultaneously in most states that were part of ‘Dry Run’ of January 2, to test the preparedness of our system to effectively furnish the task in hand as well as to train the medical and non-medical personnel for best implementation of the inoculation plan of the government. Union minister of health Dr. Harsh Vardhan has said that both the vaccines ensure safety, efficacy and immunogenicity. DCGI VG Somani has declared, “We’ll never approve anything if there is slightest of safety concern. The vaccines are 100% safe. Some side-effects like mild fever, pain, and allergy are common for every vaccine.”

The best part of these approvals is that these ‘Made in India’ vaccines will be available to the country at cheaper price than the imported vaccines. Prime Minister Narendra Modi while congratulating India for approval of these ‘homemade’ vaccines has also referred to his ‘Aatma Nirbhar Bharat’, but the government still needs to work on its affordability to the common people. As per the reports already published, the common people may need to spend five times more than the government’s purchase price. One must note that per capita total health expenditure in the country in FY20 was still low at 1944 rupees. Centre and states spent only 1.29% of the GDP which was 2.6 trillion rupees in absolute terms. Indian states’ finances are in very bad shape due to the pandemic. How can they manage the required finances? The Government of India has no plan except that the state governments are required to take institutional and market loans. State’s shares in the central revenue dwindle to a new low due to fall in the GST revenue. In this scenario, if India decides to vaccinate all the people in the country, even the poorest of the poor, the Union Government needs to do much more than merely expressing pride on ‘Aatma Nirbhar Bharat’.

India plans to vaccinate 30 crore ‘priority population’ by July. First 3 crore intended recipients would be healthcare and frontline workers who are to be vaccinated over next two months. Then over 50 and younger the population with other serious ailments would be vaccinated. Mobilisation of vaccines to cold chain hubs, storage, and then to the vaccination centres are also going to be tough tasks. Union and the state governments are yet to create such facilities in required numbers and other related logistics. Needless to say, India needs to speed up the vaccine administration as a ‘work in progress’, since there will be no ‘final plan’ in a highly ‘fluid situation’ with even new threats.

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