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Govt will have to take vaccines to people, involve small private players & release timely, clear data on supplies

India’s spectacular count of 86 lakh doses, apparently to herald the revamped vaccination policy, showcases what the country is capable of, when vaccine supply meets demand. Remember, though, hopes were similarly raised when India notched 43 lakh doses on April 5. Things went downhill thereafter when the second wave peaked, vaccine production choked and Centre allowed states and private sector to directly purchase 50% of the depleting vaccine stocks. With some of those problems taken care of, taking vaccines to all people still remains a vast challenge.

Government officials have already said 80 lakh doses per day won’t happen in the coming weeks. But meeting Centre’s “vaccination for all” target by December 31 requires around 83 lakh doses daily, seven days a week. If the pace flags now, the required rate will grow steeper as we approach December. Boosting supply depends primarily on SII and BB delivering by July the 16 crore doses contracted by Centre in late April. Centre was entitled to just 50% of vaccine stocks then. If that translates to 8 crore doses available in the states’ quota till July, Centre mustn’t lose time in booking those doses too. Transparency in publishing vaccine allocations to states, stock positions and upcoming deliveries are crucial, not just for experts and the press, but people. Many clueless Covaxin recipients await their long overdue second dose.

If the 25% allocation to private sector keeps going unused, state governments must enrol private establishments for free vaccination, akin to pre-May 1 system. Only big hospital chains have demonstrated the capability to place bulk orders. Small private hospitals and clinics, which most Indians frequent, can ease states’ inoculation burden. States can even reimburse their service costs to uphold the free vaccination principle.

CoWin’s digital divide has manifested in the tech savvy using vaccine-finder apps to quickly snap up vacant slots. The vast urban working class and the rural population, who wage a daily battle to make a living, are handicapped by lack of awareness, tyranny of distance, and vaccine hesitancy. Governments must take vaccines to them, with incentives like free rations if needed. Mobile vaccination vans are the best bet. Lastly, with two Covishield doses proving effective in reducing hospitalisation and vaccine supplies improving, epidemiologists seeking reduction of the 12-16 week dosing gap must be heeded. Saving lives, minimising emergency medical expenditure, and enjoying a full economic unlock are reasons enough to spare no expense or effort in aiming for a December closure.



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



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