Wednesday, Mar 03, 2021 08:15 [IST]
Last Update: Wednesday, Mar 03, 2021 02:39 [IST]
With eight states showing a spike in fresh infections, India embarked on the second phase of its state-organized Covid vaccination drive on Monday. With vaccines now available to citizens with co-morbidities aged above 45 and also those who are simply above 60.
This follows a lukewarm response to the first phase, which aimed to vaccinate 30 million health and other frontline workers but achieved less than half the number. The second phase target is 27 million. The 70-year-old Prime Minister Narendra Modi took a jab at Delhi’s All India Institute of Medical Sciences. Others who meet the government’s eligibility criteria are expected to follow suit. As many as 20 health conditions will qualify middle-agers for a priority shot, ranging from hypertension and diabetes to other vulnerabilities of the heart, kidney and liver. The success of this phase is crucial because it coincides with a resurgence of corona infections in at least eight states, raising fears of a second wave.
Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said that 29 lakh people registered for coronavirus vaccination on Monday – the beginning of the second phase of India’s inoculation drive. Vardhan also expressed confidence that the recent surge in coronavirus cases is not permanent and will soon be brought under control.
State-administered inoculations had begun on 16 January, aimed at healthcare and other frontline workers, but only 14.2 million were given jabs in that initial phase. Now that private facilities have been enlisted for a wider effort, India’s pace of immunization should pick up. The goal is to have 300 million Indians covered by August, including the 30 million who were eligible for jabs in the first phase. How quickly the country can quash its covid threat by imparting people with immunity, however, would depend not just on today’s outreach, but also on how soon we allow a market for vaccines to emerge.
So far, the mission’s most visible constraint on efficiency has been the patchy performance of the government’s online Co-Win system. It was designed to let beneficiaries register for their free shots and track who all have had which dose of a double-dose regimen, but has not proven very reliable. With medical certificates of co-morbidities to be uploaded now by above-45s, Co-Win has been rejigged. It is an additional relief that Aarogya Setu, our official Covid-tracer app, can also be used to book jab appointments, while offline registration at vaccination centres has been enabled as well.
Strikingly, those who want to avail of private facilities can do so. At a price capped at Rs. 250, they can get one of the two centrally-procured vaccines: Covishield, developed by Oxford-AstraZeneca, and Covaxin, the indigenous one that our Prime Minister got. That Modi was injected with the latter should help put to rest some of the doubts that have hovered over Covaxin, given its controversial approval, and thus address an important aspect of vaccine hesitancy.
Yet, more needs to be done. For immunization to roar ahead, we must empower our citizens. Allow people to exercise their own preferences.