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Ayushman Bharat CEO Indu Bhushan feels Covid-19 is on its way out in India, and the vaccine effort might not be the best way to spend the State’s scarce resources. He may want to reconsider his line of argument.
Experts in Seoul, Tokyo, Sydney and several European towns, besides British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, had been similarly hopeful, once it appeared the virus was on the retreat in those places. But the virus thought otherwise, merrily mutated and pounced on unmasked, mingling humans and filled up local hospitals faster than anyone could say ‘Gesundheit!’ Bhushan, seemingly innocent of epidemiology if not economics, should consider this: if insurance has to cover the cost of treating hordes afflicted by an aggressively infectious variant of the virus, the cost would exceed, by far, that of vaccinating around 60% of the population.
The Covid inoculation drive should be, like all other immunisation efforts, as much about herd immunity as it is about personal immunity. So, government at the central and state levels should provide the vaccination. In India, where price gouging and black markets are par for course, the surest way to universal inoculation is for the government to make the vaccine available for free. As more and more vaccines are certified and supplied, shortage would be confined to the first few months.
There should be no bar on vaccines other than the ones being procured by the government being made available in private healthcare like medicines sold on a physician’s prescription.
If the well-off who neither want to wait nor suffer a visit to government hospitals want to shell out good money and buy a vaccine made by, say, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson, they should be free to, so long as their vaccination event is recorded in the official database. The economic cost of slowing down the virus at a lower level of infectiousness has been immense. India cannot afford to pay a higher price now that there are some signs of economic revival.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Economic Times.