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Protect Maharashtra from grim Covid spike

Instead of new lockdowns and movement restrictions in multiple Maharashtra districts to tackle an alarming Covid spike, what’s needed is an immediate overhaul of vaccination strategies. Centre assuring that all states have been adequately stocked for vaccines doesn’t answer why it’s shying away from liberalising vaccine distribution and administration. Rather than tight centralised controls, state governments and private healthcare providers must be allowed to negotiate prices and procure directly from vaccine manufacturers, who have excess stocks and underemployed manufacturing capacity.

This will help states and private players target peak function instead of the bewildering conservatism of a central pool apportioning vaccines down the line. Bear in mind that India’s richest state by a fair margin locking down again would be very bad news for the national economy. Movement restrictions will also hamper access to hospitals, testing and vaccination facilities. Realisation must dawn that the working class isn’t queueing up for the vaccine like the elderly middle class. Instead, the vaccine must go to them. Only a thoroughly decentralised approach will suit the requirements of a diverse market.

Maharashtra, with nearly 10,000 daily Covid cases, is vaccinating around 2 lakh persons daily. At this pace, the state will take 135 days to just single-dose the 2.7 crore remaining priority targets and several months more for second dosing. Its fresh Covid wave calls for faster vaccination to curb hospitalisations and deaths. Currently, public vaccination sites outnumber private ones 4:1. Given private sector accounts for nearly two-third of healthcare footfall, vaccination sites should be skewing in their favour, not vice versa. Testing has been key to detecting infections and prompt hospitalisation. The current Covid surge must see a proportionate testing scale-up. Meanwhile, why’s the conversation on masking – still the most effective and cheap virus suppression method amid vaccine rationing – so muted?

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



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