FPJ Edit: Vaccinations - government must focus on the goal, not milestones

Monday’s spectacular vaccination records – a staggering 88.09 lakh doses were administered on June 21, according to updated government data – shows what can be achieved if official will is backed with adequate resources and a drive to succeed. The immediate aftermath of that euphoric high, unfortunately, also highlights what is going wrong with India’s vaccination drive.

For starters, it shows that the government’s ambitious target of vaccinating the entire adult population with at least one dose of the vaccine by December 31st of this year is achievable, provided there are no other hiccups in vaccine production, supply and above all, acceptance by the public at large. If India can manage to deliver at least 80 lakh doses per day on a sustained basis from hereon, with no breaks or disruptions, the entire population can be covered by the end of the year.

Unfortunately, it appears that the big boost on Monday was aimed more at scoring PR points, rather than as the start of a truly revitalised and revamped vaccination drive. The five BJP-ruled states which accounted for the biggest surge on Monday also saw the sharpest falls on Tuesday, indicating that Monday’s performance was a politically directed flash in the pan. After delivering over 16.9 lakh jabs on Monday, Madhya Pradesh, for instance, managed only 4,825 doses on Tuesday. Haryana fell from 4.96 lakh doses to 75,894 on Tuesday, while Karnataka’s numbers fell from over 11 lakh to 3.92 lakh.

In terms of the overall target, India is still miles behind, with only 17 per cent of the population having received at least one dose and barely 4 per cent being fully inoculated. Compare this with the US, which has manged to cover more than half its adult population already, and has begun to reap the benefits by opening up its economy. While Monday’s spike is clearly not repeatable in the immediate future, it does demonstrate that the vaccine administration mechanism in the states is capable of considerable stretch.

The challenge before the government is clear: it must ensure that the two principal vaccine suppliers, Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech, ramp up their production to deliver the number of doses required to meet the 80 lakh per day target. Rather than leave this to the manufacturers, the capacity enhancement must be treated as a national priority, with a Central war room monitoring the progress and removing roadblocks.

It must also be ensured that not a single dose of available vaccine is wasted. Utilisation of the private sector’s allocation of 25 per cent of the supplies should also be monitored and unutilised supplies diverted to the government’s stocks on an ongoing basis. For this to happen, both the Centre and the state governments need to realise that vaccination is the national priority first and foremost, particularly with a new variant being labelled ‘variant of concern’. The vaccine drive must, and should not be used to score political brownie points.

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