Opinion and Editorial

KT edit: Modi’s vaccine policy shift a gamechanger

Filed on June 8, 2021

The biggest highlight was the announcement of free vaccinations for all citizens from June 21, and rejigging of the vaccine procurement process.

Vaccinating the entire population of a country as large as India is no mean feat — even if one is the largest vaccine manufacturer in the world. A clear and concise policy on how to source vaccines and detailing a plan on how to administer them across the urban and rural pockets could, however, be instrumental in developing an effective strategy. On Monday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi attempted to devise such a plan and correct some of the anomalies that have been plaguing the country’s fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.

The biggest highlight was the announcement of free vaccinations for all citizens from June 21, and rejigging of the vaccine procurement process. Going forward, the Modi government will source vaccines and also allow the private sector to buy 25 per cent of the total production. It is a major reversal from the previous plan that required India’s states to buy their own jabs at higher prices. The move could provide a boost to the vaccination drive in the public as well as private sector and bridge the vaccine inequality gap. It will also address price discrimination between age groups.

India lost significant time in preparing its health systems and procuring vaccinations for its large population when the infection rates were relatively low in the last quarter of 2020. People had become complacent and were caught off guard when the second wave hit. The Modi government, however, should be commended for managing to source medical supplies and equipment locally and from allies globally and ensuring the supply of medical oxygen to hospitals. Now, as India centralises the procurement process for vaccines, efforts should be made to ensure an efficient inoculation drive. State governments should be allowed to devise their own distribution strategy and focus on the unorganised sector, low-income urban and rural groups, while the private sector can take care of the sizeable, white-collared population. It can be a win-win strategy if there is an equitable distribution of vaccines, uninfluenced by any political biases.

Perhaps India should also look at doing away with the mandatory registration on CoWin which, as the apex court has noted, could impede coverage in the rural sectors. So far India has administered a little over 230 million vaccines, and fully inoculated over 45 million people. This is just 3.3 per cent of the overall population. The availability of locally made vaccines too has helped immensely, and the news of intranasal vaccine being developed by Bharat Biotech could be a potential gamechanger. But there is much catching up to do. At the current pace, the country might take about two years to inoculate the entire citizenry. If the promises of higher vaccine supplies are realised, India may finally have a policy strong enough to protect its citizenry from fatalities due to the pandemic and inoculate everyone sooner than later.

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