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The long time taken to use up January’s vaccine stocks mustn’t be repeated

India achieved a milestone of 20 lakh daily vaccinations on Tuesday. But the challenge after 54 days into the vaccination drive is to make up for lost time. Till February 1, 2.15 crore doses were distributed to states and Union territories. It is inexplicable that this stock was used up only by last week. A cold chain network with capacity to store 2 crore doses at a time, and phenomenal capabilities of the likes of Serum Institute to produce 5 crore doses monthly, demanded a more ambitious programme than the one India witnessed.

India’s 2.4 crore doses pale before other vaccine superpowers like the US and China; India is trailing in total doses administered and percentage of population inoculated. The UK has inoculated 32% of its population against India’s 1.7%. Simpler enrolment procedures, more vaccination sites and relaxation on restrictive priority targets will help quickly scale up. After all, India’s problem isn’t scarcity of vaccines. On the contrary, India’s large population needs rapid vaccination for herd immunity to kick in. Maharashtra’s sudden spurt warns that the disease could see several waves without appropriate countermeasures, even upsetting the ongoing economic recovery.

Co-Win has proved a mixed bag. Many have faced scheduling glitches. Walk-in vaccinations are low on priority and consequently get delayed. India’s class and digital divides are reflecting in the low vaccine offtake among the poor and those without smartphones. A simpler data keeping mechanism and decentralised delivery of vaccines through mobile vans, house visits, anganwadis and other public facilities will improve their enlistment.

The private sector is faring much better. On Tuesday, 4,681 private facilities accounted for 6.5 lakh planned vaccinations – nearly 140 daily per centre – while 17,724 government sites with a capacity for 29 lakh vaccinations garnered around 14 lakh inoculations. The numbers testify to private sector efficacy, which calls for stepping up private participation. Instead of government control over the distribution pipeline, allow private providers to source directly from vaccine suppliers and roll out all vaccines passing Phase 3 trials. This will expedite capacity utilisation end to end, incentivising vaccine manufacture and hospitals to vaccinate more. For a country blessed with incredible vaccine infrastructure, denying vaccines to the general population betrays a scarcity mentality. Public expenditure on vaccine procurement mustn’t worry governments. This will be repaid manifold from the resultant boost to economic activity.

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



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