Give private sector a bigger role in vaccination

By: |
February 13, 2021 4:20 AM

Merely partnering for storage/last-mile delivery won’t help; allow firms to strike procurement deals with vaccine-makers

To the extent that the challenge is one of logistics and not supply, as vaccination progresses, the kinks can be worked out to hasten delivery.To the extent that the challenge is one of logistics and not supply, as vaccination progresses, the kinks can be worked out to hasten delivery.

India, the headlines would make it seem, has done admirably on Covid-19 vaccine-delivery efforts. It is, after all, the fastest country (at 26 days from vaccination roll-out) to have gotten to 7 million vaccinations; the US, the second-fastest, got to this figure in 27 days and the UK, in 48 days. However, India’s pace is nowhere near enough, given it aims to inoculate 300 million in the priority group—healthcare personnel, frontline workers, the elderly and those with co-morbidities—by August. At the current rate, meeting this target will take over three years, let alone inoculating a significant chunk of the population within the next couple of years. Bear in mind, this is when we run the world’s largest annual vaccination programme (the absolute number requiring vaccination for Covid-19 is significantly larger). The challenge for India is definitely greater given its vast numbers—its 7 .7 million inoculated (as on February 12) represent just 0.56 having received a vaccine dose among every 100 Indians, while the US’s nearly 45 million and the UK’s 14 million inoculated represent 13.6 and 20.4 vaccinated persons per 100 population, respectively.

While the government’s digital vaccine management portal, Co-WIN, as per Reuters, can handle a peak of 10 million shots per day, the current pace being a fraction of that suggests the on-ground capacity lags the estimated potential at present. To the extent that the challenge is one of logistics and not supply, as vaccination progresses, the kinks can be worked out to hasten delivery. But merely adding private sector for last-mile services rather than opening up the market to the private sector for procurement, storage and delivery is hardly going to help step up capacity and overcome delivery hurdles. India also needs to quickly ensure that supply doesn’t become a challenge, and key to that will be allowing the private sector,too, to strike deals with vaccine-manufacturers rather than relying solely on government-to-business procurement deals. Canada, whose purchase deals give it the largest per capita vaccine supply in the world, is struggling badly now; so much so that it is drawing from Covax, the WHO-led initiative that pools funds from wealthy nations to ensure access to vaccines for low-income countries as well as the contributing nations, in the first phase (Singapore and NewZealand, among a clutch of wealthy nations, have requested early access as well). Part of Canada’s problem stems from manufacturing delays faced by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna—the two vaccines that have received authorisation for use in Canada. Another problem is that there have been demands from Europe to restrict exports of vaccines produced there (both Pfizer and Moderna are also producing in Europe). India being the top vaccine manufacturer may not see a supply problem, unless countries that have both government procurement and allow their private sector to procure move quickly to seal deals with Indian manufacturers. While vaccine diplomacy could pay rich dividends, the Centre needs to keep in mind that, though India has largely been spared the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic so far, there is an urgent need to vaccinate large parts of the population if the economy is to recover and emerge meaningfully safe from a future Covid threat.

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