Reboot the vaccine strategy | HT Editorial
In the span of a month since it began the coronavirus vaccination drive, India has administered roughly 8.5 million doses till February 15. Large supplies and a profuse network of centres meant India delivered more doses than any other country in the initial couple of weeks. But, as this newspaper noted on January 29, the trajectory stagnated, contrary to the rapid expansion seen in other countries and the expectations of authorities. This is best captured in India being overtaken by the United States (US) in the race for the first 10 million doses — the US took 31 days, while India is unlikely to hit that mark until later this week, or at least till 35-36 days after January 16.
A host of problems are impeding efforts to scale up. The most persistent is hesitancy, which is catalysed by the fact that the outbreak has receded in recent weeks. Misplaced fears about serious side-effects and confusion about who needs a dose, when they should take it, and which vaccine is safe have also played a part in keeping the turnout under 50% (of targeted vaccinations per session) on average. Lately, this seems to be an even bigger concern when it comes to getting people to take their second doses — the turnout for this is even lower. The government has said it has a target of 300 million vaccinations by August, a little under six months away. One month in, it has managed to hit less than 3% of that target.
Experience from other countries suggests the lull in the Covid-19 case count in India may be short-lived. It could face a surge as citizens becomes complacent and careless with regard to Covid-appropriate behaviour, or the population now protected due to past infection could start to see reinfections. Data from Maharashtra, for instance, suggests a rise in cases. Worse still, mutations of the kind seen in the United Kingdom, South Africa or Brazil could arise. On the logistical side, the millions of doses stockpiled by vaccine makers will begin to near the end of their shelf life, while summer temperatures could raise the risk of wastage even further. Altogether, these factors mean the window may be shrinking for India to avoid another wave by using vaccines. It is imperative now that at least a million vaccinations are done in a day, and five million a day by April. And the process can begin by opening up access to the general public.