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India’s Covid inoculation programme needs more vigour. The first phase focuses on healthcare and frontline workers — doctors, nurses, other medical personnel, sanitation workers — most exposed to Covid.
Only 56% of those who are eligible have been vaccinated. Vaccine hesitancy in the medical community will spread with greater virulence to the general population. This will impede India acquiring herd immunity, and its interactions with broader global community. Government and its agencies, medical institutions and vaccine developers and manufacturers must step in to remedy this situation.
Failure to allay genuine and unfounded concerns will have disastrous consequences for India’s post-Covid recovery. The absence of Phase III trial data for either Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin or the India-specific version of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, Covishield, might underlie the medical community’s vaccine scepticism.
This can be rectified by making the relevant data available to doctors and medical institutions. The government must step up efforts to bridge the information gap. Interactions with the Covid vaccination programme administrators from other countries can help in devising ways to counter this problem.
In the meantime, effort must be made to minimise vaccine wastage. Broadening the target group of those eligible for the vaccine each day would help, as would changing vaccine delivery units to facilitate greater flexibility and zero wastage. Broadening the scope of eligibility for vaccination would help accelerate the pace of vaccination. Vaccine hesitancy undermines the fight against the pandemic. It is vital to nip this problem in the bud and vaccinate as many as can be covered before new variants spread. Resolute action is called for.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Economic Times.