Given this, the decision to resume exports, albeit to a few countries in the neighborhood, to begin with, is certainly bold. Only hindsight, however, will reveal if it is a wise decision or not. But prudent or otherwise, the measure reveals a lot about the state of play vis-à-vis the vaccines, the vaccination drive, and the challenges going forward.
The first thing to note is that vaccine shortages are a thing of the past. State governments can no longer complain about not receiving enough doses. The nature of the problem has changed from one of scarcity to one of the supplies being wasted for the lack of takers in various parts of the country.
At one level, the problem of plenty may seem like a good one to have. But it must be kept in mind that although India has administered more than a billion vaccinations, there is still some way to go, with less than 40 crores having received both doses.
There is no room for complacency even if the numbers of those infected have continued to drop. And at a time when there is a growing pattern in breakthrough infections, particularly abroad, we need to be thinking ahead to booster doses, as the US and some other countries have.
Official data has shown that a staggering 100 million people who took the first dose failed to turn up for the second. The reasons for this mass absence are not clear and, in the absence of a scientific survey, one can only speculate on why people missed taking the second shot.
The reasons could be varying and include a sense of complacency given the falling numbers of active COVID-19 cases and the failure to appreciate that two doses are essential to provide adequate protection. But whatever the reasons, it is important to identify these people and take corrective measures quickly.
Any form of vaccine hesitancy will hinder the return to normalcy and increase the risk of a third surge, even if doesn’t assume the horrifying dimensions of the second wave. It is imperative to combat this. At the same time, it is important to keep a strict eye on exports and allow this only in a calibrated manner.
India indeed has other vaccines which are in different stages in the regulatory approval process and that serosurveys have shown that most adults carry antibodies, leading some to believe that herd immunity has kicked in. But given the existence of breakthrough infections, it is a good idea to keep in mind an important truth when it comes to COVID-19 vaccines – that enough may not always be enough.