While the Covid-19 vaccination coverage in India, in terms of absolute numbers, seems encouraging as it ranks third globally, the continued hesitancy among healthcare and frontline workers and a conservative and restrictive approach of the Centre are proving to be dampeners, slowing down the pace of inoculation. There is an urgent need to speed up the process in view of the huge population that needs to be covered. If 1.3 billion people are to be vaccinated, it will take 260 days—at the rate of 5 million a day—to complete administration of the first dose. As of February 9, only 31.45% of Covishield and 11.75% of Covaxin stocks dispatched have been administered to healthcare providers, defence personnel and frontline workers between January 16 and February 9. It is time the private sector was involved in the vaccination drive to achieve the targets. Private companies can also be allowed to vaccinate their employees and their family members and assist in rolling out the vaccine in the surrounding communities as part of corporate social responsibility. Such a programme could benefit an additional 100 million workers in the formal sector and local communities by providing access to the vaccine. The health authorities are now drawing comfort from the fact that the vaccination coverage has crossed 9 million doses, ranking India at the third position after the United States and the UK and the fastest in the world to cross all milestones ranging from 1 million to 7 million vaccinations so far.
However, as all vaccines have a finite period of longevity and the matter of possible expiry of many of these vaccines is of national concern, there is a need to ensure that their delivery is expedited in an equitable and accessible manner. By opening the vaccination process to the private sector, a large cohort of those willing to take the vaccine would ensure that these are fully utilised within the expiry period. Greater participation from the industry would ensure there is minimum wastage of the vaccines. The government must allow other priority groups to get vaccinated and involve the private sector to accelerate the process. The second version of CoWin, a mobile app platform for vaccine registration and tracking the beneficiaries, must enable integration with systems of private hospitals and healthcare centres. This will ensure that citizens won’t have to access apps of private organisations to get vaccinated and obtain the vaccination certificate. This platform will help streamline the crucial process of issuing vaccination certificates that could come in handy for travel, seeking employment or returning to offices. The government must bolster the public trust in the vaccination process, particularly since rumours and conspiracy theories against vaccines still find some takers.
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