India’s vaccination success ruffles a lot of feathers

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When India began its vaccination efforts, many expressed doubts about its ability to adequately cover its populace. Such doubts were misplaced from the start given India’s dynamic ability to handle large vaccination efforts

Representational image. AP

The year 2021 will go down in history for various reasons – one of which is the global inoculation effort. The global attempt to vaccinate has been mixed – with many of the advanced economies doing exceedingly well while emerging markets and the developing world struggled to secure adequate vaccine stocks.

When India began its vaccination efforts, many expressed doubts about its ability to adequately cover its populace. Such doubts were misplaced from the start given India’s dynamic ability to handle large vaccination efforts.

Nonetheless, there were concerns that were expressed repeatedly by both commentators, academics, and even global media. Needless to also add that many had even extrapolated the pace of vaccination to suggest that India may take over a decade to vaccinate 70 percent of its population.

Historically, India has been in the category of developing world whereby it had to wait for years before it could begin vaccinating against some of the world’s deadliest diseases. Many, especially those our age, are perhaps unaware that there was a time when India used to rely extensively on foreign aid to ensure adequate food supply for its large population.

It was thus inconceivable to many that India would manage to inoculate a significant proportion of its population within two years of a pandemic outbreak – a historic first that points to the transformation it has witnessed over the years.

Close to 90 percent of the eligible population have received the first dose and 65 percent received both doses. This is no small achievement given the India’s population, operational challenges and of course vaccine hesitancy.

More importantly, India managed to produce these doses within thanks to two large vaccine manufacturers who will play a major role in ensuring global vaccine equity over the coming year. This by no means is a small achievement – yet, many are still reluctant to acknowledge it.

For instance, Shruti Menon of BBC writes how India managed to miss its vaccination target. This statement is valid, but the entire article did not acknowledge that there was a change in the duration between the first and the second dose of the Covishield due to evidence of improved efficacy.

As a consequence, the vaccination drive and subsequent targets were bound to lag given the increased gap.

Over the next couple of months, more people will receive their second dose thus pushing the numbers closer to the 90 percent mark.

With the vaccine roll-out for children underway along with a cautious approach to boosters that relies on medical advice rather than a one size fits all, by the middle of 2022 India will perhaps be one of the most vaccinated countries when it comes to a percentage of total population.

Indeed, it may be the case that India may not achieve a 100 percent vaccine coverage due to a small minority of the hesitant. But again, compared to UK, France, Spain or any other advanced country, India will still have a higher proportion of fully vaccinated adults.

Besides, given the historical context and prevalent constraints, the story should not be about how India did not achieve 100 percent first dose coverage, but instead be about how India managed to ensure 90 percent of its eligible population, including the adult population, were given the first dose in record time at an unprecedented scale.

The achievement reveals a growing reality which will be felt across different sectors – that over the coming decade, India will be punching much above its weight.

It is also important to revisit the vaccination effort – especially during the second wave when states asked for greater powers to procure stocks. The resulting chaos purely due to political considerations further points to implementation challenges that may complicate effective implementation of such programs.

Since the centralization of the vaccination drive combined with the increase in production capabilities, India saw a significant pick-up in daily vaccination rate.

This pick-up also serves as an important lesson – it points to the crucial role played by the private sector in supporting government efforts. Be it the ability to produce vaccine at a low price or scale up the entire distribution and logistical set-up or ensure a substantial increase in available medical infrastructure – the private sector played a proactive role.

The government indicated the need to treat the pandemic as a war – and war-time efforts requires mobilising the entire country. COVID-19 was no different – it saw a tremendous effort from an otherwise middle-income country with an underfinanced healthcare sector.

The results of the effort are visible – India has performed well or at par with some of the world’s most advanced countries.

Somya Luthra is a student of law. Karan Bhasin is a New York based economist

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