India needed better foresight and planning in vaccinations

Eight months ago, the daily Covid 19 infections began a declining trend in India to the extent that by January, India’s leadership itself, going by its own policy actions, believed that a devastating second wave was unlikely

Parvati Sasankan Apr 26, 2021
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Eight months ago, the daily Covid 19 infections began a declining trend in India to the extent that by January, India’s leadership itself, going by its own policy actions, believed that a devastating second wave was unlikely. There are no other explanations as to why India, following the example of US and UK, did not tie up orders to inoculate most of its adults within this year.

A combination of panic and public pressure has prompted the Modi government to authorize vaccines to anyone above 18 and give states more control over procurement. This is despite the problems in scaling up production and supply and management of vaccines as also the surge in cases. For one, the process initiated by the government in early January to expand India’s manufacturing capacity was under the assumption that it would be at least August before vaccines could be fully opened up for all.

At the optimistic rate of three million doses a day, it will take at least 257 days from today (April 25) for every adult to get at least a single shot. Opening up vaccines for all on May 1 and letting states negotiate deals with manufacturers do sound like the government is listening to the people, but given the background of supply constraints until June, there is a likelihood that the story of vaccine shortage will surface more acutely.

Leading international vaccinators such as Pfizer and Moderna have supply commitments already tied up and it is unclear if merely the policy of liberalising vaccine supply will leave states in India with the finances and negotiating power to procure enough stocks of vaccines.

Chaos and confusion

Moreover, lockdowns are resurfacing in cities due to the surge in Covid cases. The government should intervene instead of giving the states full right to directly contact the suppliers of vaccines so as to preempt any possibility of vaccines getting sold for higher prices than their original rates.

Chaos and confusion which now seem inevitable could have been averted with some foresight and planning. 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, which it now seems inclined to do. 

Moreover, the latest Covid wave is hospitalizing more young people globally than the first waves. In India, the age profile of people getting infected remains mostly unchanged but there is some uptick in severity of the disease among the younger lots. The transmissibility and lethality of mutated strains are strong reasons to quickly protect younger people with vaccines.

Right policies needed

The new norm of delaying the second dose of the vaccine Covishield to six-eight weeks rather than the previously prescribed rule of keeping a four-week gap between the two shots is based on medical reports about the greater efficacy of the modified system. This delay in the second dose will allow more people to take their first jabs and gain partial immunity in the process. 

Johnson and Johnson’s application for phase 3 trials and import license for its single-shot vaccine is before the drug regulator now. Right policies implemented properly will give India’s youth a reason for cheer.

(The writer is a Chennai-based journalist. Views are personal. She can be contacted at parvati663@gmail.com)

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