Centre’s approval for inoculating everyone over 18 from May 1 marks a welcome change in the vaccination strategy. Government has also recognised the merit in facilitating a private market for vaccines. It has left 50% of the vaccine supply to state governments, employers and private hospitals to procure directly from pharma companies. Concurrently, it has loosened purse strings by sanctioning advance funds of Rs 3,000 crore to Serum Institute and Rs 1,500 crore for Bharat Biotech. Combined with the green signal to all foreign vaccines that credibly passed Phase 3 trials elsewhere, these measures can give an impetus to vaccination and goad pharma companies to escalate local production and expedite imports.
In other measures necessary to increase supply, India must keep prodding the US to carve out exceptions in the wartime powers invoked under the Defense Production Act that deny Indian companies raw materials for vaccines. The Biden administration looks comfortably placed to meet its goal of rapidly inoculating all of the US – with vaccines now open to everyone above 16 years – and mustn’t disable similar efforts underway in India.
Moreover, the latest Covid wave is hospitalising more young people globally than the first waves. In Brazil a majority of those in ICUs are now 40 or younger. In India the age profile of people getting infected remains mostly unchanged but there is some uptick in severity of disease among younger persons. The transmissibility and lethality of mutated strains is a strong reason to quickly protect younger persons with vaccines.
Amid genuine concerns about how the extra demand from the younger populace will be serviced, it is a promising sign that the 45+ age group has enthusiastically responded since their eligibility on April 1. 4.2 crore people in the 45-60 age group have received first shots already while the 60+ age group has logged only 4.7 crore first doses since March 1. Following the WHO expert panel’s recommendation of an 8-12 weeks gap between two Covishield doses (India’s norm is 4-8 weeks now) can delay second dosing and allow more people their first shots and gain partial immunity in the process. Johnson & Johnson’s application for Phase 3 trials and import licence for its single-shot vaccine is also before the drugs regulator now. Right policies implemented right will give India’s youth reason for cheer.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.
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