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Jabs for the 45-plus is a right step forward. Here are some more ways to accelerate

With the country staring at a second Covid wave, revised vaccination guidelines allowing everyone over 45 to get vaccinated is a timely move. Coupled with Monday’s increase in gap between two Covishield doses up to eight weeks, this allows a massive ramp up in vaccination numbers. The revision also recognises ground realities: Chennai Corporation’s PHCs have begun vaccinating individuals above 18 years of age to reduce vaccine wastage and improve capacity utilisation. More occupations are being treated as frontline workers, something Ludhiana also did. The second Covid wave demands such improvisation and flexibility and Centre’s decision to revise the priority group addresses this need.

Against vaccination capacity of 60,000 daily, Chennai’s civic body achieved only 32,000 on Saturday and a paltry 18,000 on Monday, thereby necessitating such moves. Moreover, a vaccine vial once opened has to be exhausted within four hours or is wasted. Where beneficiaries in the 45-plus group aren’t present, local authorities must show flexibility to follow Chennai’s suit. This is also the international pathway. In the US, healthcare facilities are offering unused doses to young people waiting to jump the line, thereby reducing wastage. After all, youngsters engaged in contact jobs are potent superspreaders.

The age group relaxation will also bolster private facilities reporting low offtake of vaccines. Just 13% of the 40,000 vaccination sites on Saturday were private facilities and average turnout after 16 lakh inoculations was just 40 per site. Low turnout and price controls, bottlenecks in supply and vaccine unavailability with preferred private providers, could be factors diminishing the private sector’s enthusiasm. One-size-fits-all cannot address the diversity of consumer and service provider preferences. Reports from Karnataka indicating vaccine shortage highlight further pitfalls of centralisation.

Centralised rationing based on states submitting requirements and requisitioning supplies could also be hindering ambitious vaccination drives. States and private hospitals must be allowed to source vaccines directly and adapt inoculation strategies to tackle localised infection surges and hesitancy/ ignorance among diverse groups. Simultaneously, vaccines that pass Phase 3 trials in advanced jurisdictions abroad should be granted emergency use authorisation, like Covaxin was, to help find local manufacturing partners and expedite their production and supply. Strategies should be chalked out to deliver vaccines to neighbourhoods instead of awaiting beneficiaries at healthcare centres. The liberalisation undertaken by the Centre yesterday is a right step forward. Build on it to expand vaccination and beat Covid.

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



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