And the vaccine is here
When India begins its coronavirus vaccination drive on Saturday, it will start with some of the biggest numbers: 300,000 potential recipients, 3,006 centres, and over 16 million doses already at hand. If all goes to plan, it will carry out more inoculations than any country has done on its first day. In a matter of hours, it will reach tallies that only the United States (US) and China have managed in a single day, but only weeks after they began. Only these two countries have ever carried out more than 300,000 immunisations a day (on average).
A trifecta of factors — scientific knowledge, institutional experience and manufacturing might — have been duly complemented by weeks of logistical preparations. In the past fortnight, an increasing number of vaccination sites have been erected or demarcated, storage facilities checked and readied, an electronic reporting platform coded into place, and long lists of potential recipients drawn up. Each of these aspects is meant to address the initial challenges that other countries seem to have struggled with — of ready stock, local-level delivery sites, coordination and records, and knowing whom to vaccinate first.
But the start is also likely to be the easiest part of the mission. The country has 1.3 billion people and its first phase alone is meant to cover over 300 million people. Over the next few weeks, the central government will have to ensure that it continues to reach the people who need the vaccines the most, while also making sure that those who got their first shots get the second on time. Companies will need to keep production lines running so that there are no supply bottlenecks, and, as the first lots of recipients — health care workers and frontline essential government staff — are done, the country will move on to the biggest part of the challenge — protecting its more vulnerable citizens. The better part of the year will be consumed by this exercise and will test all the grassroots staff and the bureaucracy handling the programme. It will also, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, require the Jan Bhagidari, participation of every Indian. The vaccination drive must not just start with a bang, but keep up a marathoner’s pace until all of India arms itself with the protection needed to defeat the virus.