Waiting For Vaccine

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The Centre should have organised vaccines before inviting 18-44 groupĀ 

The much-awaited third phase of vaccination aimed at people in the 18-44 age group against COVID-19 failed to take off on the scheduled date of May 1 because most of the states failed to procure vaccines from the manufacturers. The failure of kickstarting mass immunization has led to a blame game between the Centre and states. Delhi, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Bengal, Kerala, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Punjab and Goa have deferred the vaccination drive for want of vaccines. Many states have said that they were running low on vaccine stocks and not in a position to start phase 3. Even as the states red flagged shortage of vaccines, the Centre said that over one crore doses were still available with states. The vaccination programme was apparently rolled out without proper planning, which resulted in over 13 percent of the vaccines across the country going waste as eligible people failed to get them administered as there was apprehension about their efficacy in the public mind.

After the first two rounds of vaccination in which the Centre was the sole purchaser of vaccines from the manufacturers, the Centre changed the vaccine purchase policy to allow states and private entities to buy doses directly from vaccine makers. According to the new arrangements, manufacturers of vaccines are free to supply 50 per cent of the doses of the two vaccines to states and in the open market. Midway change in the policy by the government has been severely criticized by the concerned sectors. The Supreme Court asked the Centre as to why a national immunization policy was not being followed in the country. Since Independence India has been following a national immunization policy; this is for the first time that the central government changed it. The apex court asked the central government to explain different prices of the vaccine for the Centre, states and private hospitals. The top court also wanted to know why the Centre cannot buy 100 percent of the requirement and then distribute it among the states.

With the second wave of COVID continuing unabated, sheer desperation to save themselves from contracting COVID has driven people in the 18-44 age group to seek vaccination at the earliest. A number of victims in the second way are from this age group, so it was not surprising that over 2.5 crore of them registered themselves on Co-Win as on April 30. However, the decision of most of the states to postpone the roll-out of the third phase because of non-availability of vaccines came as a shock to the young people who expressed dismay over the government mismanagement. Many criticized the central government for making the announcement of the roll-out without bothering to ensure supply of vaccines. Though the vaccination at government-run facilities failed to take off, three and five private hospitals in Delhi and Mumbai respectively began vaccinating people in the third phase. With limited vaccine stocks at private facilities, only a few thousands of people who can pay would benefit while the poorer section would have to wait for their turn.

The country has been witnessing a huge surge in COVID cases for over a month now, which is a cause of concern for the state governments. Experts in the medical field believe that the best way to deal with the surge in COVID cases was to increase the vaccine coverage as much as possible since that alone will help us fight the onslaught of the coronavirus and reduce its spread. The experts believe that the coronavirus cannot be defeated by a half-hearted approach and that it was necessary that a full-scale war is launched to bring the worrying situation emerging from the big surge in COVID cases under control. However, as availability of vaccines is a matter of concern, the authorities would have to take alternative measures like area-specific lockdowns to arrest the spread of the virus even as the attempts were made to ramp up vaccine production. As the pandemic is spreading through communities, the authorities need to decide on approvals sought by other vaccine manufacturers so that as many people as possible are vaccinated to build immunity before it is too late.