The silver lining in this whole exercise is perhaps the fact that the government has already concluded dry runs across regions with hopefully some useful insights. Equally important is the fact that the government has a digital overlay in place and that will now be put to test.
The day of deliverance is fast nearing with the Union health ministry announcing on Tuesday, 5 January, that the Centre is all set to shortly roll out the COVID-19 vaccines. However, crucial questions that some within the industry and from the healthcare sector are asking remain unanswered.
One is a rather basic factoid about the actual procurement of the vaccine – the date when the orders are to be placed with the suppliers. On this, the health and family welfare ministry secretary Rajesh Bhushan tells Financial Express Online that “we have not revealed a date when orders would be placed.”
Even if the government has a clear picture of this and wants to keep the details close to its chest for the moment, it is perhaps important that the companies that are to supply the vaccines are clear on the quantum of supplies required. This is crucial because, apparently, manufacturers need to make arrangements for the supply and transportation of the vaccine doses to the locations specified by the government. Apart from these, they also have to have all the required clearances in hand depending on whether the vaccine doses are being made in an EOU (Export Oriented Unit) or an SEZ (Special Economic Zone). Also, they need to make suitable arrangements for a cold chain and storage. All of this and the related paperwork is bound to take time. The questions around these become all the more crucial as Financial Express Online reliably learns that manufacturers of the vaccines have not yet received any concrete orders from the government. Ask the health secretary on the quantum of doses and when they are expected and all that he is willing to say at this moment is: “when we have the information on this, we will share.”
But then, time is ticking. After all, going by the government’s announcement on Tuesday, the roll-out of the vaccines to the health workers should begin in less than 10 days from now. To this, clarifying that no specific date has been mentioned, Bhushan says that it will be “10 days from the granting of the emergency use authorisations (EUAs)” and that apparently all that it was meant to indicate was the state of preparedness. However, those in the industry already indicate that since the EUAs were issued on Sunday, 3 January, a possible timeframe from when a rollout could be expected could be from 13 January.
If that is not all, some of the doctors who have registered their details with the local municipal authorities and shared their phone numbers and other details required had questions around how the CoWin app that all are required to download, could be possible in the case of some paramedical staff who may not have a smartphone. Also, for some who are over 60 years and do not use a phone, what are the possible arrangements to ensure they also get the vaccine as per the vaccine rollout plan?
While many do not doubt the government and the ability of its officials to smoothly conclude the process, at least for the health workers, since most can be easily located and many would be in employment, the bigger concerns could possibly be around the next phase. That is when the vaccine is to be administered to the rest of the population.
At a time like this when anxiety levels are high among people on the type of vaccine and their safety and efficacy and trust is playing a crucial role, it will only help if transparency can keep pace with the fast-approaching days of deliverance.
The silver lining in this whole exercise is perhaps the fact that the government has already concluded dry runs across regions with hopefully some useful insights. Equally important is the fact that the government has a digital overlay in place and that will now be put to test. It is the Electronic Vaccine Intelligence Network (eVIN), an innovative technological solution aimed at strengthening immunisation supply chain systems across the country that has now been put in place. This is being implemented under the National Health Mission (NHM) by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. eVIN, as it is often referred to, apparently aims to provide real-time information on vaccine stocks and flows, and storage temperatures across all cold chain points in the country. What also needs to be noted is that this system has been used with the requisite customisation during the COVID pandemic for ensuring continuation of the essential immunisation services and to protect children and pregnant mothers against preventable diseases.