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Vaccinating entire country seems tough but is certainly achievable

Given the alarming rate at which the coronavirus is spreading and mutating, there is an urgent need to considerably scale up the vaccination programme in the country
UPDATED ON APR 26, 2021 04:21 PM IST

Given the alarming rate at which the coronavirus is spreading and mutating, there is an urgent need to considerably scale up the vaccination programme in the country.

From May 1, the government has opened up vaccination to all those above the age of 18 years. That is a welcome step. However, if the vaccination is to serve the purpose of halting the spread of the disease and also bringing down the intensity of the infection, we have to treble the rate at which we are giving the jabs now or else the entire exercise would be futile.

Let’s look at the staggering numbers that we need to inoculate- roughly about 840 million adults. Since each person needs two doses, the number of doses doubles to 1680 million and if we take into consideration the 140 million doses already administered, we need to push roughly about 1540 million jabs.

As per government statistics, in 95 days the government gave over 130 million doses. So it works out to about 1.36 million doses per day. At this rate, we would be completing our vaccination only by May 2024. Worse, by then, the total number of jabs required to be given would have multiplied , as those who took the shots in the first and the second year would be eligible for re-vaccination or booster doses. In other words, the entire vaccination programme would become unmanageable.

On the other hand, if we treble the rate at which we are vaccinating the people and administer 4 million vaccines per day, we can vaccinate the entire 18 plus age group by the end of May 2022, including those who become eligible that year. And that should be our target.

It is not an easy target, given the fact that we need to have a continuous supply of four million doses of vaccine every day. But keeping in mind the dreadful consequence of delayed vaccination- uncontrollable infections caused by a variety of mutated viruses, we need to do everything possible to get that supply --- step up existing productions, get more companies to produce the vaccines, import as much as possible --–well, we cannot borrow or steal, but we can certainly beg for vaccines when we need it to save lives, there is no shame in it.

Pricing of the vaccine is equally important. The centre as well as the states have to ensure adequate availability of the vaccines for free at government facilities and at very reasonable rates at private facilities, to make sure that the price of the vaccine does not become a deterrent in the mass vaccination programme. We may need the vaccines desperately, but given our numbers, we are also the biggest consumers of the vaccine and we need to use that power to bargain hard for lower prices. The government also needs to ensure that the private sector, I refer here to the hospitals as well as the pharmaceutical companies, does not exhibit the usual avariciousness in this hour of crisis.

Today, every country in the world is racing against time to vaccinate its population and those countries that are producing adequate vaccines have a clear advantage. In the United States, for example, roughly about 41 per cent of the population has got at least one dose of vaccination and 27 per cent, two doses. Of course their population is only around 328 million.

We are fortunate that we not only produce the most widely used of the eleven different vaccines against Covid-19 in the world today, Oxford Astrazenica or Covishield by Serum Institute of India, but also have our own indigenously produced vaccine, Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin. And we will soon have Russia’s Sputnik V too in our stable.

However, being the second most populous country , our demands are huge. SII has said it plans to jack up its production from the present 60-65 million doses to 100 million per month from July and BB said it had scaled up its capacity to produce 700 million doses annually. However, both have export commitments and SII is also having problems with vaccination component imports from the US . But we are likely to have vaccines from more manufacturers –and if we put enough efforts into increasing indigenous production and also imports, we can easily achieve what may seem impossible at the moment.

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