As the country continues to reel under the Coronavirus crisis, the Government of India has announced an ambitious plan to vaccinate all people above the age of 18 and above by December 2021. Is this possible or does it seem a far-fetched plan?
It is important to note that India launched its vaccination programme on 16 January 2021, with two domestically manufactured vaccines: Covishield of the Serum Institute of India and Covaxin of Bharat Biotech. Until recently, and like many other countries, India’s strategy for deployment of these vaccines had focused primarily on those most at risk of severe disease and mortality from COVID-19. A report in the Lancet states that following coverage of key workers such as health-care personnel, vaccination was at first prioritised for people aged older than 60 years, with eligibility gradually widening in subsequent months. As of May, 2021, as one of the several measures to mitigate the ongoing second wave in the country, vaccine eligibility has been expanded to include all people aged 18 years or older.
According to the 2021 projections by the Health and Family Welfare Ministry, the size of India’s adult population is estimated at 86.5 crore. Two doses for each person equals a total requirement of 173 vaccine shots. So far, India has administered 21.6 crore jabs. The additional requirement, therefore, is of 151.4 crore doses. As of June 1, India was left with 214 days to fully vaccinate its adult population, which means administering 70.8 lakh doses a day to achieve the target.
According to reports, the government is planning to administer 25 to 30 crore doses a month beginning August. Twenty-five crore a month for five months will mean 125 crore doses. If we assume that the pace of vaccination in July remains at the June level, twelve crore more doses will still be added. If all promised numbers are put together, India may achieve a number nearing 170 crore. That is close to 173 crore doses required to inoculate the entire adult population.
As per a report in The New Indian Express, the new announcement is expected to put an end to the price differential of the vaccine. However, the Indian health system, which is quite concentrated in urban areas, needs to widen the access of the programme to ensure universal vaccination. ‘The revised policy is addressing affordability and availability issues, but the actual outreach of the programme should touch all areas. Cooperation between the Centre and states is important to ensure access’, it states.
Despite India ramping up its vaccination drives, we cannot ignore the practical challenges of mass vaccination in a country as large and complex as India. Achieving comprehensive vaccination coverage across the country will take several months, but the current epidemic crisis raises an urgent question: as part of the epidemic response, how can vaccination efforts be targeted to the areas of the country that are most in need? The Lancet report further says that the current resurgence of infection is apparent in about half of the total 739 districts in India; other districts might also be at risk as local-level restrictions are lifted or in the event of a third wave in the future.
Managing the vaccine supply chain also merits careful consideration to facilitate the rapid deployment of vaccination resources wherever needed, it adds. In this respect, India benefits from a strong pre-existing infrastructure under the Expanded Programme of Immunisation with more than 26 000 cold-chain points across the country, the vast majority (97%) of which are at the subdistrict level. These facilities are appropriate for the storage of COVID-19 vaccines currently in use in India. Moreover, rapid-response vaccination might require a dedicated stockpile of vaccines, with careful consideration of whether this stockpile would be held at the district level or instead at state-level storage depots for rapid mobilisation.
The overall consensus to date remains that despite having limited vaccination resources, the situation could be marshalled for maximum impact, if deployed flexibly in response to a rapidly evolving epidemic.
Irrespective of the vaccine taken or not, I strongly suggest people to follow the precautionary steps issued by the Government and stay healthy by doing Yoga, general exercise, possible have immunity related products to strengthen your immunity.