Get the vaccine strategy right
Balance public health, legal and ethical considerations while devising the planUpdated: Oct 21, 2020, 06:23 IST
Over the past week, India’s top leaders and officials have proffered more clues about when and how the country plans to begin vaccinations for Covid-19. Mass volumes are likely to begin shipping around March, if the trial and the approval process follow projected timelines. The first shots will likely be administered as the country heads into the next summer. Initially, somewhere around a fifth-to-a-quarter of the population, accounting for the most vulnerable and those at the highest risk, are likely to get it. The specifics are likely to be complicated, as they need to strike a balance between what India can achieve, given its institutional capacity, and what it must in a short period of time, to secure its citizens.
Among the clues into India’s strategy is a crucial confirmation by Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi himself. On Monday, the PM said a vaccine delivery system was in the works and it will utilise the upcoming national digital health ID — an initiative that he first announced during his Independence Day speech. This is crucial for two reasons. First, it appears to address how authorities will administer and track the coronavirus immunisation of possibly each of the country’s 1.3 billion-plus citizens. The process, unprecedented in scale for any democracy, needs to be precise, efficient and quick. A viable vaccine is likely to be in two doses, with a predetermined gap in between.
Second, it will mark the rollout of one of the world’s most ambitious public health management systems — the National Digital Health Mission. The idea behind the programme is to digitise the health records of citizens. Its benefits, especially in the context of the coronavirus immunisation, are clear, for it will provide easy access to standardised data. But its rollout in the context of the pandemic can also be controversial. India is yet to adopt a personal data protection legislative framework, and if access to a Covid-19 vaccine is made contingent on signing up for a national health ID, the programme becomes virtually mandatory. Till now, officials have said that sign-ups are voluntary. To be sure, the specifics of the vaccine delivery are still not final. These details will need to balance legal, ethical and, ultimately, public health considerations before they are set in stone. Getting the vaccine strategy right is critical for the entire edifice of the recovery process from the pandemic.