Vaccination against Covid-19:
2nd Phase of vaccination has just started on 1st March and the target group comprises of senior citizens (60 and above) and select others (45 plus to 59) with comorbidities. To a large extent, this phase is going to be crucial both in terms of reach as well as further spread of Covid-19 and particularly the mortality associated therewith as it relates to the segment of population which is highly sensitive to the spread of the pandemic. At the core of success of the current phase of vaccination, lie the population of elderly population which is more than 15 crore.
And considering the uniqueness of this target segment, the government needs to follow a special strategy.
Current strategy of vaccination:
As per current strategy, vaccination is given at government hospitals and select private hospitals all across the country through a process of pre-registration.
The process involves two important steps:
1. Prior registration or registration at site (spot registration)
2. Visit to vaccination centres for getting vaccinated
Both the above might not be conducive for elderly people. Majority of the elderly people, even in cities, will not be able to do the registration, of their own, because of the technological issues. Either they may not have a smartphone or they may not be able to follow the registration guidelines. Many of them are not even aware of the vaccination process. They may also find it difficult to travel to the designated vaccination centres because of transportation bottlenecks or physical inabilities. Bringing this vulnerable section of the people to vaccination centre may itself be counter-productive as it might result in their getting the virus while they are in the process of being vaccinated.
Further, many elderly people are not confident about the impact of side effects of the vaccination. This is particularly true for those who are suffering from serious heart / renal disease or on critical medication including blood thinner or similar other medicine. These people have lots of unanswered queries.
The good sign is that there is an initial euphoria and many elderly people are interested and have already taken the vaccination. But there are also very large number of people who are still sceptical and hesitant. There is also confusion regarding registration, non-availability of vaccination from many private hospitals, huge queue for spot registration, etc.
The above bottlenecks will make the target of getting 15 crore plus elderly people vaccinated by August 2021 a highly ambitious one. The central government has also requested the state governments to speed up vaccination.
Firstly, the government should embark on a massive PR campaign to bring out the urgent need of vaccination including side effects. The existing associations / communities of elderly people should be involved in such PR campaigns. The government authorities should arrange for special seminars / webinars / focused group discussions in this regard on a regular basis. Secondly, efforts should also be made to bring the vaccination to the doorsteps of the elderly people who cannot go to the vaccination centre particularly super senior citizens (say 75 years plus). We recommend that the government agencies / government approved hospitals both in public as well as the private sector should coordinate with senior / old age homes / senior citizen communities to bring the vaccine to the doorstep of such seniors. Both registration as well as vaccination can be done simultaneously at offices of senior citizen associations existing in various states or other designated places / senior citizen homes. At villages, the registration and vaccination can be done at Panchayat buildings or community blocks. This will help in several ways.
First, elders have to travel minimum. Second, process (registration and vaccination) will be single phase and hence simpler. Third, at the vaccination centre, they will be in a single group of senior citizens and feel more comfortable. Finally, all senior citizen associations and communities will be motivated to market the scheme for their members and that will help in reducing the vaccination hesitancy.
We agree that there could be issues related to storing the vaccinations at such decentralized centres and that should be sorted out by the government and the medical fraternity. Similarly, ambulance and other facilities need to be there for any emergency situation of after-effects of vaccination.
This strategy will solve many of the problems related to elderly people and enable many more elderly people to get vaccinated.
By Dr A K Sen Gupta is Co-Founder and Chief Trustee of My Retired Life Foundation (MRLF). He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 9821128103.