Vaccination is the only effective way to fight Covid-19. Nowadays, nobody questions the effectiveness of the vaccine. Even if the vaccine does not avert contracting of the disease, it protects the patient from fatality. This itself points to the need to vaccinate all the vulnerable people. Some countries like Israel have almost fully vaccinated their population. Of course, Israel cannot be compared to India, as its population is just a little more than one-third the population of Delhi. Even so, the progress on the vaccination front is far from satisfactory.
As a two-member Bench of the Delhi High Court mentioned on Thursday, there is no way the target of vaccinating all the vulnerable population by December 31, 2021, can be achieved. The Central and state governments cannot shy away from the responsibility of protecting them from coronavirus.
Nobody knows for sure when the third wave of Covid-19 will begin, if at all it has not begun in some parts of the country. What is known is that though 522 days have passed since Covid-19 hit the country, the disease has not yet been eradicated. Far from that, there are now over 4.1 lakh active Covid-19 cases with an overall positivity rate of 6.9 per cent.
Kerala and Maharashtra continue to be at the top among the states reporting most cases and even deaths. In other words, Covid-19 continues to be a major public health issue. It was just a few months ago that the national capital witnessed unprecedented scenes of Covid-19 patients dying for want of either ventilators or oxygen. The deaths exposed the hollowness of India’s preparedness to face the second wave.
It is against this backdrop that the vaccination drive should be seen. If the targeted population needs to be given two doses of vaccine, whether Covaxin or Covishield or Sputnik, at least 90 lakh people should be vaccinated every day. Unfortunately, India does not have the resources, vaccine-wise or health personnel-wise, to meet this challenge. It is a pointer to the challenges the health sector — both public and private — faces. So far, not even 10 per cent of the population has received two doses of vaccine. There is a palpable slackness in the vaccination drive.
A recent report said that orders have been given to the vaccine manufacturers to augment the availability of vaccines in the market. The population figures were all known to the authorities and they could have given orders months in advance. That is called planning.
In fact, precious time was wasted over the pricing of the vaccines, with the Centre ready to bear only a portion of the cost. It wanted the manufacturers to sell the vaccines at different costs to the Centre, the states and the private hospitals. Finally, the Supreme Court had to intervene to bring a semblance of sanity to the country’s vaccination policy. While free vaccination is ensured for senior citizens, those who are below the age of 40 have not been getting due attention.
On the contrary, vaccines are available in private hospitals, at least in the cities, provided the people are ready to shell out the price at which the service is available. In short, vaccine is not universally available. One reason why the vaccination drives in the past, whether against diphtheria or small pox or polio, were a success was because they covered each and every targeted child or adult. Alas, the present drive is sectional.
Be that as it may, there is an urgent need to reactivate the vaccination drive. Now that Covid-19 cases have come down in many states, things are returning to near-normal. The situation was much the same in the post-first wave period. People became complacent as they began to violate the Covid-19 protocols. That is why there is not much demand for vaccination in states other than those which record a high rate of Covid-19 incidence. Such a situation does not bode well for public health.
The government should do everything possible to step up the vaccination drive so that every targeted person is covered within the stipulated period. The pandemic can be considered controlled only if 80-90 per cent of the vulnerable population is vaccinated. Fortunately, India is a major vaccine producer in the world. All that is needed is to step up vigil and ensure that the entire vulnerable population is mapped and vaccinated. Only then can we say that Covid-19 has been controlled.
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