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PM getting his jab and affordable vaccines at nearby hospitals bring back the momentum

In kicking off the third phase of vaccination for senior citizens and those above 45 with comorbidities by getting himself inoculated, PM Modi has given a promising impetus to the pace of vaccination. So far, vaccination hasn’t matched up to India’s immense population challenge but the opening of centres at neighbourhood private hospitals and flexible options for registration can give a big boost. CMs, Union and state ministers, and opposition politicians must also follow suit to trigger a “herd mentality” against vaccine hesitancy. Rope in the celebrities too.

After 42 days of vaccination, India has just dispensed 14 million doses while the cumulative world tally was 240 million doses. The Indian effort really doesn’t do justice to its phenomenal vaccine manufacturing capacity, which could get throttled if the offtake doesn’t improve. Against India administering vaccine doses to 1% of the population, those with comparable vaccine manufacturing capacity like the US and UK have covered 20% and 30% respectively of their population. Since February 13, India’s seven-day rolling average of daily Covid infections has also shown a steady surge, signalling fresh need to ramp up vaccination.

The PM being administered Covaxin was another highlight of yesterday. Covaxin’s rollout without waiting for its Phase 3 trial results had caused much dismay. Until last week, 1.2 million Covaxin doses (SII’s Covishield has accounted for 90% of doses) have been administered with no reports of serious adverse events. While the PM factor will help, Covaxin also needs proactive release of interim data from Phase 3 trials and more studies proving effectiveness against new coronavirus strains. Concurrently, state governments must also do rigorous genome sequencing as part of surveillance efforts.

India’s vaccination strategy is very closely intertwined to its economic fortunes. A GDP contraction of 8% in 2020-21 requires a big bounceback in the new year. To recover lost ground, the services sector accounting for 50% of India’s GDP needs a confident restart. But restrictions on interstate movement in response to February’s Covid surge are symptomatic of persisting jitters. Only rapid vaccination will enable a more confident economy. Industry mavens are proposing an intensive 3-4 month vaccination effort that can cover 70% of the population. All the ingredients that can make this happen – more vaccine approvals, more manufacturing capacity, an open vaccine market and more private vaccination centres – can translate into a big 2021 GDP bump.

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



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