Set up local centres to administer the vaccine
THE dry run of the vaccination drive is over and the actual vaccination drive is going to begin in the next few weeks in Goa and the rest of the country. The health regulators have approved two vaccines: Covaxin, indigenously developed by Bharat Biotech in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research and Covishield, developed by Oxford University in collaboration with AstraZeneca. The next big challenge before the central government and state governments is to roll out the immunization programme in a smooth and speedy manner. Earlier vaccination programmes in India have overwhelmingly relied on the public health infrastructure. But the scale of immunization against COVID-19 is so high the public health infrastructure alone cannot carry out the programme. Private hospitals have to be engaged. Even private medical practitioners need to be involved.
The number of people to be immunized, even if the government goes by priority, will be so high even government and private hospitals will not be able to cope with it. There is something to learn from the United Kingdom that became the first country to start a massive vaccination drive against COVID-19. The UK government supplied first deliveries of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to General Practitioners as well private doctors across the country in early December. The General Practitioners and private doctors were able to administer the doses, adding to the hospital hubs already vaccinating the high-risk groups of elderly and frontline workers. Groups of health providers also set up local vaccination centres in villages, towns and cities in order to cover different parts of the UK. The advantage of the local centres, away from hospital settings, was that the doctors and nurses and primary care staff were working with local communities to deliver the vaccine in familiar and convenient settings.
There is need to open as many local centres as possible for vaccination across India. The country has a network of primary health centres but that may not be enough. The health department has to get as many local centres set up in the villages and towns as possible. This will make the vaccination drive easier. There would be no crowding. It is important for the health department to intimate people to come to vaccination at a particular centre. People should receive information in time. Otherwise, the fear of the coronavirus is such that people would pester the hospitals and doctors with inquiries about when their turn for immunization would come. Other departments of the government, and the officers such as the district magistrates and block development officers have to work in a systematic and organized manner to collect data on the names, addresses and contacts of the persons to be immunized according to the priority list. The government should make it public through the media and its grassroots link workers that the people should come for vaccination only when they are called up for it.
The central government and state governments have already identified the top priority group that is of frontline workers. The next on the priority will be senior citizens with and without comorbidity. The country is going to embark on an enormous challenge to deliver the COVID-19 vaccine. Despite many weaknesses, public health infrastructure in India has got a good track record of delivering mass vaccination programmes. They will be making use of their experience to administer the life-saving vaccine against COVID-19.
The coronavirus pandemic has claimed a large number of lives in India as in the rest of the world. It has infected millions of people and thrown life off the rails. There was a second wave and there are frequent spikes. It is a disease that, even if one recovers from it, leaves adverse effects in the functioning of the organ systems. There was no other way but to develop vaccines that would protect people against COVID-19 infection. Medical scientists and pharmaceutical companies have worked hard to develop vaccines in a short time. They deserve the gratitude of humanity for that. Thanks to the vaccine, life could be back to normal again. The next responsibility is of the government to deliver the vaccine to people in the fastest possible manner.