How to head off a national calamity
Vaccinating all the citizens is a good idea, but we are hardly ready
The second wave of Covid hit the country so hard and with such pace that the government had to adopt policy decisions that were hardly on the table just few days ago. Among the most startling decisions are the go-ahead for states to procure the vaccines on their own, and allow all 18-year-olds to be vaccinated. On the face of it, the decision looks good, but scaling up production capacity in so very short a time poses as much problem as the logistics and management of the supply chain do, especially when the scramble for vaccines from large states seem to be soaring relentlessly
Way back in December, 2020, it was decided that 300 million people of India fall in the most vulnerable group, and they need to be vaccinated on priority. In January, 2021, the government of India decided to fast-track production of vaccines, so that by August ’21 enough vaccines were available to vaccinate the 300 million of people considered the most vulnerable section of the society.
The ground data emerging today is somewhat depressing. By August, just about 117 million out of the planned 300 million have been vaccinated. This figure includes people above 45 with no Covid symptoms at all. Their number is about 17 million. In percentage terms, it’s just about 5% of the intended target of 300million. Clearly, there is a huge ground to cover.
Closing the yawning gap between demand and supply of vaccines is, therefore, a really daunting task. If we produce about one million vaccines a day, we would need about 260 days to vaccinate the people needing it most.
Some eight months ago, India’s Covid numbers began to plummet making the leadership slip into a complacency mode. It was conveniently assumed that a crippling second wave of infection was unlikely. Other than expediency, there is nothing to show why India didn’t continue its capacity-building in vaccine development following the footsteps of the U.K, and the U.S. No tie-up with overseas manufacturers was considered that could have given a push to inoculate large populations to short notice. In another policy flip flop, quality standards were applied differently giving the Indian manufacturers an unfair advantage over those from overseas. Thus, the target of inoculating most Indians in a year’s time proved elusive.
The second-wave and the acute oxygen crisis have left the government policy leaders in a quandary. Fire-fighting has replaced cool, calculated policy implementation. The policy shift that allows all 18plus to be inoculated, and States to procure vaccines directly from the companies seem a bold move, but not much benefit would accrue from it. Till June, vaccine manufacturers are tied up, and they can’t meet more demand.
Circumventing vaccine shortage by obtaining them from Moderna and Pfizer is not a feasible idea as these companies are already tied up with buyers. and are not likely to sell anything to India. The hot summer months and the looming lockdowns will make logistics a real problem. As public clamour for vaccines grows, inoculating vast numbers of people is going to make a difficult problem more difficult. The country is thus staring at a period of continued chaos, and state-center rancor.