Meaningful effort to avoid another second-wave like disaster will need vaccination to go on an overdrive.
Eight months after India kicked off its Covid-19 vaccination effort, it has managed to administer 60.4 crore vaccine-doses, of which13.7 crore are second-doses. The pace of inoculation has picked up now, reaching 52.16 lakh/day in August from 29.96 lakh in April (it had dipped to 19.69 lakh in May). However, as has been obvious for some time, the vaccination effort needs to be a lot more concerted. For instance, while 50% of the above-18-years population has received a single dose of the vaccine, only 15% has received the second dose.
Given the stipulated gaps between the two doses of vaccines, this suggests the momentum for this group of vaccine-recipients hasn’t been anything to write home about. Vaccine supply/demand issues have also plagued coverage. Meanwhile, even though the overall test positivity rate (TPR) for the country remains low, 41 districts in the country have a TPR higher than 10%—Kerala, which reported a TPR of 18% on Thursday morning, accounted for 58% of the country’s new cases over the past seven days.
The health ministry has reminded that vaccines are “disease-modifying” (mitigating) and not disease-preventing while cautioning that September and October will be crucial for management of the pandemic because of the festival calendar. Against such a backdrop, several states moving on reopening of schools—the Centre has called on states to vaccinate school personnel urgently—poses a tough challenge.
National Technical Advisory Group on Immunization (NTAGI) chair NK Arora has said that a phased reopening of schools will depend on vaccinating adults that are expected to come into contact with the students. Experts in the US, which is seeing a record number of children get infected, and hospitalised, believe school-reopening could exacerbate the problem. This is not to say that we shouldn’t reopen schools—indeed, the deepening digital divide between the haves and have-nots clouds the future of millions of students from poor families. However, with a vaccine for children aged 12-17 years expected only by December, states can’t afford to drop the guard in the slightest measure.
Meaningful effort to avoid another second-wave like disaster will need vaccination to go on an overdrive. While Arora told the media on Thursday that there is no proposal to change the dose interval for Covishield, Covaxin or Sputnik V at present, the government must lean on vaccine-manufacturers to step up production. As an analysis by howindialives.com shows, vaccine-supply, despite the recent momentum, needs to be beefed up significantly for India to meet its vaccination coverage targets for the year. Both Serum Institute of India (manufacturing Covishield) and Bharat Biotech (manufacturing Covaxin) have raised production, but Bharat Biotech will need to pull up its socks—Covishield supplies went up from 49 million in May to 100 million a month now, and Covaxin supplies went up from 9 million a month to 15 million.
The NTAGI chairman sounded optimistic about vaccine exports from India in 2022, but, for that, the domestic goals for 2021 need to be met and that hinges on vastly improved vaccine supply. That said, the people will have to observe Covid-appropriate behaviour; Kerala’s case, post Id and post Onam, shows the blow that complacency by people and the authorities yielding to populist compulsions can inflict.