Managing the second wave

| Updated on March 21, 2021

The Centre should look at expanding the eligible population by including everyone over the age of 45 for taking the Covid vaccine   -  The Hindu

Vaccinations, testing, isolation and treatment should pick up in the face of a resurgent Covid

The Covid daily caseload has crossed 40,000, the highest in nearly four months. The challenge before the Centre and States is threefold: to practise and enforce responsible behaviour; ramp up testing and contact tracing; and ensure that vaccinations cover large numbers over the next four months. Given the economic costs and impact on livelihoods, lockdowns should be enforced only as a last resort. On the behavioural front, politicians should set an example by wearing masks at public rallies. The cap on numbers at social functions should once again be strictly enforced and points of entry into States strictly monitored. Above all, the government needs to improve its messaging. While dispelling misgivings and myths about the vaccine, it should be made clear that immunity sets in after at least a month. The threat of a second wave calls for a renewed sense of resolve.

The Health Minister Harsh Vardhan has reiterated the herd immunity argument by stating that the whole population need not be vaccinated. This may hold true for a containment zone where outsiders cannot enter. Else, it is hard to identify the threshold level after which herd immunity will take effect. The Centre’s approach of identifying target groups by priority and vaccinating them is basically the right one. However, it should at the least maintain its current speed of over three million vaccinations a day. At current pace, by the end of July, it would have covered a population of over 300 million — and a good number twice. However, vaccine delivery systems need a relook, in view of the problem of wastage. A national average of 6.5 per cent conceals higher levels of wastage in some States. Vaccine wastage takes place when an opened 5 ml vial containing 10 doses (or a 10 ml vial with 20 doses) is not used up within about four hours, a situation that seems to arise outside the metros where vaccine awareness is low. In the metros where demand is higher, surveys point to diversion of doses to ineligible populations in order to reduce wastage. In fact, it may be a good idea to expand the eligible population to include everyone above 45 years of age. The Centre should allow States to define their priorities in this respect based on their demographics and infection spread rather than enforce a uniform policy across the country.

About 40 million doses have been administered since January, while 76 million doses have been sent to the States. A stock of over 30 million amounts to an inventory of seven to ten days at the current rates of vaccination. This inventory is ideal; it should neither fall nor go up. India has so far shipped out 60 million doses, a number that is likely to increase with a rise in contractual obligations. Yet, that should not be a worry as new vaccines such as Sputnik V are about to begin production. India is well placed to produce for itself and the rest of the world. It needs to tone up its delivery systems.

Published on March 21, 2021

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