Vaccination Push, YeT…
By Poonam I Kaushish
The Covid 19 pandemic is the most tumultuous, most catastrophic and the most defining epoch of our lifetime which changed the world like no other. It has held humankind hostage in its vicious tentacles and made us realize how frail we are. But as we live the ‘new normal a brave, new world beckons: The vaccine is here and doctors are busy inoculating people globally to fight the pandemic battle.
In India the roll-out of the vaccine is a unique challenge and a unique opportunity. The challenge is to protect 1.35 billion people by quickly conducting the largest vaccination programme ever. True, Prime Minister Modi has lead from the front visiting key manufacturers, launched the programme on 16 January for the first phase which aimed at 10 million health-care workers and 20 million ‘front-line’ workers, followed by the second phase of 270 million people over 60 years or with co-morbidities above 45. He was inoculated Monday.
Yet, till date only over 1,50,000000 have been vaccinated despite the Government’s plans which for unknown reasons did not foster confidence. The reasons are not far to seek. Said a senior doctor at AIIMS hospital, “The Government tried to control everything. All hospitals had to submit lists of their health workers and were given 100 doses each day with a list at 10 am of who they could vaccinate that day. We spent the day scrambling to get the people to take the vaccine and usually could not meet the quota.”
Also despite some relaxation and flexibility hospitals complain of be given limited doses when they have a capacity to administer 1,000 vaccines a day. Some were scared of getting the jab and others said they needed more information. Not a few wanted to brave it out and left it to God.
Today, the Government is racing against time given that eight States —- Maharashtra, Kerala, Punjab, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat — are showing an “upward trajectory in daily new cases” of 17,577 new cases and 130 deaths daily or 86.18% are from these States wherein India’s total active Covid-19 caseload is over 1,65,000. The present active caseload is 1.48% of the country’s total positive cases
Raising a moot point: Are we headed for a second wave?
Put it down to complacency, ‘restriction fatigue’ and nonchalant approach to observing Covid norms but cases are rising. Parts of Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu are already in lockdown. Warned AIIMs Director Guleria, “We need to be extremely vigilant, people should not let their guard down, wear masks, hand washing, maintain social distancing and ‘hotspots’ should be micro-managed to prevent leakage of cases. “
Moreover, as restrictions on movement ends and as schools, offices and other public place open higher population density is resulting in cases on the upswing as people are careless more so once they are administered the first vaccine dose. As it stands there are 26-32 actual cases for every reported case. According to the Indian Institute of Public Health, “people are throwing caution to the wind going out meeting family and friends, partying etc.. India is currently at the second spot after US in the virus caseload.
The real elephants in the room are the new variants in Brazil, UK and South Africa. As a large number of people have still not been exposed to Covid 19 the dominant strains could easily travel to relatively unaffected areas and trigger fresh outbreaks. India has reported more than 200 cases of the UK strain till January end, there are 8 cases of the other two variants. Also we could have home-grown variants as well. In fact, the virus is mutating faster than the vaccines rolled out.
Cases in European countries are rising as a new wave sweeps through the continent. London is in lockdown, France, Germany, Spain and Portugal are witnessing a spike in cases. In the US cases are smashing new records. In South Africa a new mutation is not receptive to the vaccine. Recall the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic. The second wave was more virulent as people became careless.
So what is the problem? Despite boasting of having the world’s fastest launch, getting one million vaccinations in a week and eight million in a month and the world’s largest, manufacturer Serum Institute which has 100 million vaccines in stock and has promised to ramp up production to 100 million each month -— alongside India’s indigenous Bharat Biotech which also has millions in stock while two other vaccines are expected next month.
Yet India is way behind in its inoculation drive. Think. Eight million a month, times two doses, it will take us 17 years to administer the vaccine to 800 million adults. Consequently, the Government needs to accelerate 20 times whereby at least 140 million people should be vaccinated monthly.
Is this possible? Certainly, if the private sector, NGOs and corporate too get into the act in a full-fledged way and are allowed to buy vaccines from manufacturers and sell them to people who want them instead of the Government trying to control what happens in detail. Said a doctor at a private hospital, “We can administer one million vaccines each day if we are allowed.” A case in point. Pune’s Maratha Chamber has vouched for vaccinating the entire adult population of 5 million in one month!
Besides, the Government needs to take a leaf out of its Covid testing policy. In the beginning it restricted testing to only those who had symptoms which was being done by Government laboratories this resulted in infections spreading. Once, private laboratories were allowed, they ramped up their capacity testing all those willing to pay, thereby helping in control of the virus spread. Hence, for vaccination too, the Government should decentralised things and not micro-manage..
Additionally, all laboratories should scale up genome sequencing to look out for new mutants. The Government needs to inoculate at least 300 million people by August to ensure that the infection does not become widespread and uncontrollable.
Notwithstanding, we also have the world’s biggest opportunity. Already, India has taken the lead and emerged leader in export of the vaccine to counties across the globe. From our SAARC neighbours to European nations, African Continent, Down Under Australia and New Zealand to Brazil et al.
Clearly, this is just an ongoing war. A race against time to defeat Covid. Even as our leaders exhort people to exercise Sainyam and Sankalp, this alone is not enough. The Government needs to remain focused and get on with the job of vaccinating millions a day. As we ready for a new tomorrow post vaccine, there is no room for complacency. As American singer Kenny Rogers sang: “If you’re gonna play the game, boy, You gotta learn to play it right.” All India needs to do is play it right. — INFA