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As rollout extends to frontline workers, it has to keep picking up momentum

With the Economic Survey emphasising that India’s economic recovery, projected at 11% GDP growth in 2021-22, will ride on its vaccination drive, the second phase commencing today to simultaneously vaccinate frontline workers is critical. Through Thursday and Friday the country upped its game, vaccinating over 1.1 million health workers. The category of frontline workers is much larger, so the scale of the exercise will need to grow proportionally and in complexity. A continually expanding vaccine programme will also have a positive impact on economic revival, including by bailing services sectors.

India has set broad targets of vaccinating 10 million health workers, 20 million frontline workers and 270 million elderly and those with comorbidities, before moving to the general population. While most countries struggle to secure enough vaccine doses, India currently has a problem of plenty. Companies like Serum Institute and Bharat Biotech have really risen to the task of vaccine manufacture. SII’s tie-up with Novartis for manufacturing the latter’s vaccine, which this week demonstrated encouraging efficacy, further bolsters our position. India has reportedly booked 1 billion doses, which should be ready for rollout by the time the priority groups are inoculated.

Ensuring January recipients return for their second doses in February is the next challenge. This requires scaling up the number of sites and inoculations per session so that the first dosing for frontline workers doesn’t slow down. Ensuring every vaccination site – nearly 10,000 sites now from 3,000 originally – functions at 100% capacity alongside periodic scaling up of capacity to 1 million daily recipients and beyond becomes important, given India’s shift to a vaccination centred strategy to halt the pandemic. Especially as new mutations and the prospect of re-infections have sparked a global call for accelerating vaccinations.

Of course this is not a substitute for virus suppression through masking, testing and contact tracing. The importance of not letting down the guard prematurely is highlighted by Kerala whose infection tide just isn’t ebbing. Further, coverage of beneficiaries varies widely between states, pointing to significant vaccine hesitancy. Lagging states must study the success of Odisha, Haryana and Rajasthan, to gain public trust. By preventing another Covid surge, rapid inoculation will be more effective than a fiscal stimulus package in preserving the hard won economic gains. If states are lacking in financial resources to boost vaccination, Centre must step in and offer help.

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This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.



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