Lessons India can learn from the vaccine rollout in other countries
In the fortnight between December 14, when the first American received a coronavirus vaccine, and December 29, the United States vaccinated 2.13 million people. The country has done more vaccinations than any other across the world, and its tally represented close to 50% of the inoculations carried out globally till Tuesday. In itself, reaching 2.13 million people over 14 days is not a small order – but it is one that falls short of expectations. American authorities expected to vaccinate 20 million people by the end of 2020. Instead, rollout has been hobbled by time lost in quality checks, managing vaccination reporting tools and planning distribution flows.
The first month of vaccine rollout has not been smooth elsewhere too. In Germany, delays were reported at several sites after temperature logs showed some of the vaccine boxes did not maintain the temperatures required for the Pfizer-BioNTech dose – potentially damaging stocks. In Canada, which approved two vaccines, supplies came in a slow trickle. In the United Kingdom, where Pfizer estimated four million doses were made available, only 800,000 have been administered. Teething troubles are not uncommon in any exercise with such a number of moving parts — the factory-to-syringe process includes a range of people and modes of transportation — but they can be costly at a time when we are racing against the pandemic.
These experiences hold important lessons for India. The country did well to begin mock drills, giving its digital management platform as well as human resource training an early shakedown. The exercise covered seven districts in four states and exposed crucial areas that need improvement
well in time. But, in a country over 1.3 billion
people, such dry runs must quickly be replicated in more districts. Officials must look at the experiences in other countries and keep open the scope to tweak or overhaul protocols, including how India selects and prioritises the groups of people who are first in line for a dose. Just like its early legwork on the delivery side, the government must now intensify efforts to ensure supplies by announcing its first purchase deals. Regulatory processes are expected to reach crucial breakthroughs shortly (a key meeting was scheduled for Wednesday afternoon), which should give the government the confidence to commit to purchases.