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More people in India visit private healthcare facilities. Mobilise them for Covid vaccination

Three weeks into the anti-Covid vaccination drive, the challenges are becoming obvious. Vaccinating the 30 crore priority group of health and frontline workers, senior citizens, and those with comorbidities by July with 60 crore doses requires 33 lakh daily inoculations. On Monday and Tuesday, the number of daily inoculations hovered near 2 lakh after consecutive peaks of 5 lakh last Thursday and Friday. A private market for vaccines and mobilising the child vaccination infrastructure will enable the required rapid scale-up.

NSO 2017-18 data indicates that just 30% of patients go to government facilities for treatments against 40% to private doctors/ clinics and 23% to private hospitals. A significant chunk of this private capacity can be requisitioned for the Covid vaccination effort. On Day 1 of the ongoing National Polio Immunisation Drive, 89 lakh children were administered oral drops involving 12 lakh vaccinators and 1.8 lakh supervisors. Admittedly, polio campaign logistics are far simpler. But time is of the essence in defanging the novel coronavirus.

All spare capacity, including in 30,000 primary health centres, must be leveraged. Otherwise new mutations, some of which reportedly dodge the antibodies produced by prior infection and vaccination, could pose fresh problems. These can reverse India’s current advantage of reducing active caseload. High efficacy results from Sputnik V trials, the fourth vaccine being manufactured in India, portend more vaccine stocks. This is yet another cue to scale up. Moreover, adverse vaccination events have been few till date. Comparing India’s inoculation numbers with other nations won’t help; India has the world’s largest population other than China. Private enterprise can be the force multiplier here. With middling turnout at many vaccination sites, opening vaccination to the general public resolves unutilised capacity.

The serosurvey indicating 56% of Delhiites – over 1 crore people – with antibodies raises questions about containment measures like masking, testing, tracing and lockdowns. While India scaled up testing, masking was a perennial shortcoming. Such high seroprevalence may explain fewer fresh infections, but the longevity of antibodies and immunity remains unknown. Given the massive effort behind these serosurveys, epidemiological data on asymptomatic cases, instances of “Long Covid” and correlation with risk factors like age, comorbidities, etc, must be collected too. Those surveyed earlier must be retested for antibody persistence. Expending energies and capacity smartly will prevent a resurgence of the current pandemic, while helping the country prepare for the next one.

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



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