Coronavirus Pandemic

Vaccine hesitancy has reduced drastically, says Indian health authority chief

James Jose, Suneeti Ahuja Kohli/London
Filed on July 1, 2021
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More needs to be done to eradicate some of the hesitancy, Dr. Ram Sewak Sharma says during India Global Forum.

Dr. Ram Sewak Sharma, the CEO of India's National Health Authority has said that vaccine hesitancy has reduced drastically and added that the country was able to vaccinate the highest number of people in a day, barring China.

“The vaccine hesitancy has reduced to a very considerable extent after the second wave,” Dr. Sharma said at the India Global Forum on Thursday.

Dr. Sharma was speaking on the topic ‘Global Health — Race against the odds,’ on the second day of the hybrid conference, held in London.

“People are now coming forward and as you can see, we vaccinated 8.6 million people in a day. That must be the highest number in the whole world, probably barring China. So that is fact enough that people are coming forward, vaccine hesitancy is going away,” he added.

But he did strike a note of caution saying that with India being a huge and diverse country, more needs to be done to eradicate some of the hesitancy that is still prevalent.

“However, India is an extremely diverse country and there are areas, and there are people who will have the vaccine hesitancy and we will have to continue to sort of convince them, coax them and actually educate them to ensure that they need to get vaccinated. Efforts have been going on in a massive scale and our Prime Minister is leading that effort to convince people. There have been campaigns and every state government are launching those campaigns to ensure that more and more people get vaccinated. The vaccination centres in rural areas are actually creating awareness campaigns and are bringing people to the vaccination centres to get jabs,” noted Dr. Sharma.

Dr. Sharma also revealed some of the steps being taken by India in tackling this vicious second wave.

“One, is putting more money into the development of health infrastructure. Secondly, we already have a programme of insurance cover to people, and we include Covid and such kind of pandemics also in that cover. It will actually initiate more private sector investment. Thirdly, we are actually creating a national digital health programme which, in a couple of years, will ensure that the entire country is connected through a grid which actually connects the patients, the doctors, to the labs, to the pharmacies. And all those stakeholders will get connected through an extremely powerful grid. India is a highly connected country with 1.2 billion mobile phones, 700 million internet connections, 600 million smartphones. So, we are going to leverage that, and we have a very robust infrastructure, which is the digital identity, we have the digital consent framework (Electronic Consent Framework), and that I think will help us in creating a digital health framework,” he explained.

Dr. Sharma also said that it was not right to make a judgement on whether India was complacent when the second wave ravaged the country.

“I will not really be able to pass a judgement on those kinds of statements that we were complacent or not complacent. I can only say that yes, it did hit us very badly and then, at the same time, because we were very alert in ensuring that we took good care and therefore we were able to contain it as quickly as it actually rose. India is an extremely diverse and large country, so it is very difficult to make a general statement about India,” he opined.

There has been talk of a third wave in the coming months and Dr. Sharma said India is well-equipped and better prepared.

“I’m not a scientist in that sense and I cannot predict the third wave, when will it come, how serious or bad it will be, but what I can say is that we have very effectively managed the second wave and the numbers are down. Our health care workers and the entire health system was under pressure, but it has sort of been successful in putting down these numbers. We have been trying to ensure that we are able to effectively tackle on all fronts, whether it be post-Covid care or pre-emptive front, or contact-tracing,” Dr. Sharma said.

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