Crudely waking us out of complacency, an unexpected wave of coronavirus with new mutants came barging in last month, galloping like hooded marauders, reviving memories of the 1918 Spanish Flu. That too had come in three waves, coincidentally in March 1918, before subsiding in summer of 1919. It had then infected a third of world’s humanity with 50 million deaths worldwide. Fortunately things are now different with medical and scientific advances, availability of vaccines in a record time, and modern health infrastructure. But we do need to learn our lessons.
As India’s daily case-load crosses an unprecedented 2 lakh, with no beds available in hospitals, cremation grounds and graveyards overflowing, the situation is indeed grim. 16 states show a continued upward trend with 84% of cases from eight states alone – Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Kerala, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, UP and MP.
A series of meetings by PM Modi emphasised a fivefold strategy: test, trace, treat, strict public compliance (Covid appropriate behaviour – CAB) and accelerated vaccinations. However, the current surging tally is really worrying, calling for a countrywide war-like effort. There is a need of stepping up genome sequencing efforts to identify if highly infective variants are behind the second wave.
In a welcome move, India has fast-tracked emergency approvals for foreign Covid-19 vaccines and approved for restricted emergency use the Russian Sputnik V, which has vaccine efficacy of 91.6% in clinical trials and costs below $10 per shot. It’s planned to produce 850 million doses in India annually.
In the new fast-track emergency approvals, vaccines okayed by regulators in the US, UK, EU and Japan or by WHO will be eligible for use without a bridging trial. The government has also invited Pfizer, Moderna and J&J to seek licence for Covid vaccines soon, indicating fast-track emergency approvals. This would help compress the timelines considerably and augment supplies. SII is also working on another vaccine – Novavax – in advanced stages.
Several states are taking vigorous emergency measures like night and restricted weekend curfews, school closures, mini lockdowns etc. CBSE Class XII exam been postponed, Class X exam cancelled (to be assessed internally). Despite realisation of the new looming threat, there however appears some weariness and fatigue among people.
Considering that the young population is being affected more, especially as they have to go out for work, there is a critical need of urgently vaccinating our entire adult population over 18 years. Also, as India’s vast population is scattered across vast rural, semi-urban and remote areas, a strategy of countrywide polling-booth like vax-centres (with attendant medical supervision) is needed.
States and districts must have war-like control rooms, with dynamic dashboards, medical officers, vaccination officers, cold chain handlers, Asha workers etc. With electioneering and polling booths, focus now should be on vax booths.
This being a war-like situation, the private sector must be associated in a big way. Vaccine making is a complex, expensive and risky business involving continuous processes. Manufacturers must be given procurement orders in advance, with remunerative pricing, and incentive to produce, build scale and invest in technology.
Corporates and chambers of commerce must be involved extensively and proactively. For example, top 250 listed companies, both in public and private sector can be asked to arrange vaccination to all their employees and their families, and for those willing, even for neighbouring communities. There could be involvement of CSR, major foundations etc. Several companies may have their own doctors, nurses and dispensaries or hire medical vans. Wherever feasible, vaccination may be undertaken in dense sites like multi-storey buildings (Gurugram undertook it with excellent results). Wastage of vaccines must be avoided with coordination.
While panic does not yield any outcomes, we must be prepared with a full strategy for an all-out war against the devious enemy. In addition to all other earlier measures and CAB, this time around the main weapon is JAB, let’s fully deploy our armour with efficiency, efficacy and speed.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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