The magnitude of the challenge is too daunting to ignore. The problem of the Covid-19 vaccine shortage is going to explode into an unmanageable disaster in the coming weeks if not addressed urgently on a war footing. On the first day of the vaccine registration process for those in the 18-44 age bracket, over 1.33 crore people signed up but could not get the appointment slots for inoculation. The scale of the challenge ahead can be gauged by the fact that on average only 25 to 30 lakh doses are being given across the country because of the rationing of the vaccines. With the vaccination drive being opened to this age group, there is bound to be a massive surge in demand. There is no clarity on how the Centre plans to address the huge gap between the demand and supply. Utter chaos prevailed as scores of people, who registered for the vaccination on the Co-WIN platform, could not get slots for taking the jab. Almost all the States and private hospitals are staring at a massive shortage of vaccine stocks in the face of a huge rise in demand. From the beginning, the NDA government’s vaccination policy has been patchy, ad-hoc and flawed. It should have anticipated the surge in demand for vaccines and planned accordingly in close coordination with the vaccine makers. The government dithered on the issue of extending financial help to the vaccine developers and manufacturers nor was there any sense of urgency shown in negotiating the prices.
The confusion over multiple price points for different categories of vaccine buyers could have been avoided. It now appears that the Centre has completely abdicated its responsibility and left the task entirely to the States at a time when huge pressure is expected, with many young men and women seeking vaccination and wanting to get back to work at the earliest. India has 59.46 crore people in the 18-44 age group. Moreover, the large number of daily deaths has removed whatever little vaccine hesitancy existed among people. Since no efforts were made to firm up capacity expansion and procurement contracts, the scarcity of vaccines is going to be a harsh reality for a couple of months. Without further losing time, the Centre must, at least now, revisit its vaccination policy. Like how the United States has done, India should procure the vaccines centrally and give the States operational flexibility. And, more importantly, vaccines should be free for all. Vaccination is the only way to prevent new mutants from arising. At present, only 1.6% of the population is fully vaccinated. As a result, the goal of vaccinating 300 million Indians by August appears a daunting task.
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