Making the vaccine available in the open market would allow vaccine demand to lap up the shots, eliminating wastage.
Prime minister Narendra Modi had some sound advice for the states on stopping what he termed “the emerging second peak” of Covid-19 in the country—Our World in Data shows a sharp spike in India’s daily new cases from the second fortnight of February. Modi stressed the need to enforce Covid-19-appropriate behaviou (mask-use, distancing, etc) and exhorted states to implement ‘test, track and treat’ with greater rigour. Indeed, daily testing levels are a problem in states like Punjab and Madhya Pradesh that are seeing a sharp rise in daily new cases. The PM even underlined the need for micro-containment to prevent wider spread (instead of a general lockdown) and the need to keep the share of RT-PCR in overall testing above 70%—some may argue that such minutiae should be left to the states, but the fact is , in at least two states that are badly-hit, Kerala (in terms of overall active cases) and Chhatissgarh (seeing a rising trend in new cases), the share of rapid antigen testing, which has a higher chance of returning a false negative than RT-PCR, is higher than many other states.
The other seminal concern that the PM flagged was of vaccine wastage; it is indeed unfortunate that Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh are seeing around 10%-or-more wastage against the national wastage of 6.5%. Modi urged states to ensure “zero wastage”, saying that vaccination efforts have to be significantly stepped up in both private and public sector vaccination centres. Some state are indeed performing poorly on vaccine administration—government data shows that average number of doses administered daily (between March 1 and 15) in Punjab and Chhatissgarh (both seeing a rising trend in daily case numbers) stood at 14, 975 and 39,855, respectively, while, in Andhra Pradesh (seeing high levels of wastage), this was 35,997. Compare these numbers with Rajasthan and Maharashtra clocking 1.5 lakh and 1.4 lakh doses per day. However, the PM needs to realise that the Centre’s decision to squeeze the room for private sector participation in the country’s vaccination efforts—by keeping the vaccines out of the open market, and by putting a `250-cap on vaccine and delivery at private sector vaccination centres—is as much to blame as the states’ inefficiency.
Making the vaccine available in the open market would allow vaccine demand to lap up the shots, eliminating wastage. Analysis by Our World in Data shows that the 7-day rolling average of daily vaccine doses administered per 100 people—an indicator of the pace of a country’s vaccination drive—stood at just 0.12 for India versus 0.74 for the US and 0.62 for the UK. India is vaccine-maker to the world, and it would be a crying shame if it were to lag other countries in vaccination in the long run, simply because the private sector was not trusted with the job.