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India’s learning from the first two phases is, empower local decision-making

Commencement of vaccination for the 45+ age group – originally slated to begin only in August after the priority groups were inoculated – is wise improvisation amid the second Covid wave that recorded 72,000 infections and claimed 459 lives on Wednesday. The previous phases covering healthcare and frontline workers and senior citizens faltered, with scaling up remaining a challenge. Against an estimated 3 crore healthcare and frontline workers, 1.73 crore have taken the first dose and 91 lakh the second dose. Against an estimated 27 crore senior citizens and those with comorbidities, 3.05 crore senior citizens and 78 lakh people with comorbidities have taken first doses.

Obviously, there’s a long way to go even for these initial phases. India’s massive population requires administering 40-50 lakh doses daily from the present 20 lakh for vaccinations to have a telling effect on Covid-related illness and morbidities. The big puzzle remains why states aren’t able to scale up further. Greater supply choices and transparency would encourage them. Data is not readily available on doses SII and Bharat Biotech have provided to the Centre overall, doses released to various states, or how many doses will be supplied by companies in the coming weeks. Shoring Centre’s assurance that adequate doses will be provided, proactive release of vaccine stock data will both put public pressure and impart confidence to each state to make long-term vaccination plans.

Centralising decision-making in Delhi and state capitals isn’t helping. Low participation of private healthcare facilities could have much to do with slow approvals and erratic vaccine supply by state governments. SII’s plan to increase its output by 67% to produce 10 crore doses from May and Dr Reddy’s Laboratories’ reported capability to supply over 10 crore doses of Sputnik V per month suggest that 40 lakh daily doses is an achievable target. After two weeks, Centre must review and further lower the age restrictions if capacity utilisation remains low.

Industry, hurting from fresh movement restrictions, has asked for in situ vaccination at workplaces. Similarly, taking vaccination to residential neighbourhoods will tackle vaccine hesitancy as people see neighbours getting jabs. Gurgaon administration is setting up vaccine camps in premises of companies. Chennai corporation vaccinating those over 18 to mitigate vaccine wastage is another model for city and district administrations to follow. Central guidelines shouldn’t prevent this. Allow local capacity to find answers to local problems. Follow the learnings from Universal Child Immunisation.

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



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