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Editorial: Shifting goalposts of vax drive

As normalcy begins returning to India, with businesses reopening in full scale, offices being repopulated and tourism operators gradually letting in guests who have been missing for more than a year now, a whiff of optimism is spreading through the air.

Editorial: Shifting goalposts of vax drive
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The findings of the latest sero survey have also given a tiny boost to the confidence of people, who had been restricted from ordinary pastimes and routine activities during the pandemic. As per the report, released earlier last week, two out of three Indians may have some form of protection from COVID-19. The sample size of 28,975 individuals also included those over the age of six, who were tested for antibodies for COVID-19. The percentage of participants who tested positive stood at 67.6%, either as a result of an infection they had contracted or because they opted for inoculation. The fact that two-thirds of our population has antibodies also tells us that a third of our population is vulnerable to the virus – an estimated 400 mn people. As per Balram Bhargava, director general of the Indian Council of Medical Research, the possibility of future waves cannot be ruled out, and cautious COVID-appropriate behaviour remains the catchphrase of the year.

We have been dealing with the fallout of COVID-19 for over a year now. In a few days, we will be nearing the August deadline, by when our former health minister Harsh Vardhan had promised that we would have fully inoculated as many as 300 mn (30 cr) people against COVID. The Centre had previously declared this year that by the end of Dec 2021, the entirety of India’s population would be vaccinated against COVID-19. Of course, the ground realities do not match up to the expectations as our vaccination figures show a disconnect. As per the COWIN vaccination dashboard, six months since inoculations were kicked off, 44.54 cr vaccinations have been delivered so far, which is bifurcated as 34.89 cr first doses and 9.65 cr second doses. Essentially just 26% of the population has had at least one dose while just 7.2% of the population is fully vaccinated. On Wednesday, our daily caseload stood at 41,686 new cases while India vaccinated 42.75 lakh people. However, this speed is just not enough if we are keen on preventing deadlier waves of the virus, even as we reopen large swathes of the economy. There seems to be a gender gap too – when it comes to being inoculated. As per government data, 14% fewer women are getting their doses as compared to men. In rural India, vaccine hesitancy and misinformation are wreaking havoc on our vaccination targets.

Last week, the Centre said that keeping in mind the evolving nature of the pandemic, no fixed timeline could be provided for the completion of the vaccination drive. Having spent a total of Rs 9,725 cr on the programme, the Centre has backtracked on multiple fronts. The projected availability of vaccines between Aug-Dec 2021 was set at 216 crore doses, which was revised to 135 cr doses. With an average vaccination rate bordering on 40 lakh doses per day, the Centre will have to ramp up its distribution to 90 lakh doses a day, if it’s keen on achieving its target of universal vaccination for all adults by December 2021.

The government’s assertion that there has been no delay in entering into purchase agreements with local vaccine makers had prompted DMK MP Dayanidhi Maran’s tweet about why states were still falling short of the doses necessary for their citizens. Shifting one’s goalposts every time a new hurdle is introduced will not work at a time when people are looking to the government for answers. The recent Union Cabinet reshuffle was an encouraging signal from the Centre that it was serious about dealing with this crisis armed with the best minds in India. It’s time the government puts to rest any apprehensions concerning the direction of our pandemic response – with a roadmap in place.

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