In the annals of history about the pandemic in India, March 1 might be referred to as a red-letter day. For one, it was the day, when the Prime Minister of the country, Narendra Modi received his very first shot of the COVID vaccine at the AIIMS in New Delhi. The PM’s inoculation, following which the Vice-President, M Venkaiah Naidu, and the Governor of Tamil Nadu, Banwarilal Purohit took their shots, was a precursor to the nationwide vaccination drive that kicked off on Monday, and targeted a significant portion of the population, over 60 and over 45 with comorbidities.
Modi’s endorsement might seem like a literal shot in the arm for the nation that has been witnessing sluggish uptake when it comes to the COVID-19 vaccines. The nation of 1.4 bn people is also home to the world’s largest vaccine makers and conducts one of the biggest immunisation initiatives globally. However, vaccine hesitancy had thrown a spanner in the works, as far as the government’s plans to inoculate as many as 1 crore healthcare workers is concerned. Of the 1 crore individuals, only 66 lakh have received the first of the two-dose vaccines, and just about 24 lakh workers have received both shots.
To top it off, one also has to consider the state of frontline workers in the country - which includes policemen, sanitary and hygiene workers among others. With about 2 crore such individuals in India, only 51 lakh workers have received the COVID shot so far. The nation that was already steamrolled by the onslaught of the coronavirus, suffered one terrible year filled with lockdowns and social distancing and is coming apart at the seams, as economic woes have made life next to impossible for millions. To add to the misery, new infections are rising at a rate that is causing grave concern, especially in states such as Maharashtra, Gujarat, Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, and West Bengal. The only way that any semblance of normalcy is restored is if people are freed of the fear of being vaccinated, and its accompanying repercussions if any.
Encouragingly, the Centre has shouldered a huge burden of this responsibility by providing the vaccines for free at government hospitals and for a fee of Rs 250 at private institutions. Of course, the caveat remains that those opting for shots will not have a choice in selecting either the Covishield or the Covaxin variants. This is also one of the reasons for hesitancy among Indians keen on getting themselves inoculated. The vaccine has arrived, miraculously so to speak, within a year of the pandemic hitting India. Many citizens had managed to hoodwink the virus during this period when one had more or less became acclimatised to the new normal of sanitation and social distancing, as the cases were gradually declining across India. To these individuals, the prospect of injecting a vaccine that was cleared in a hurry still seems unreasonable. In simple terms, if it’s not broken, why fix it, seems to be the attitude.
The vaccination drive has witnessed a few initial hiccups such as the confusion about registering on the Co-WIN app and portal which was clarified on Monday. But going forth, the digital backbone and data repository which will keep track of vaccines being administered and the beneficiaries of the programme, as per priority, will need to be strengthened tenfold. Media outreach initiatives, both from the State and Centre will be needed to dispel rumours and unfounded fears about the vaccine. Citizens must take a step in the right direction and help kick COVID out of our lives.