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How to SPEED UP Covid Vaccination

By SYED FIRDAUS ASHRAF
May 18, 2021 10:36 IST
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'Centres like polling booths can be set up for the area till the last adult is vaccinated -- open on all days from 9-9.'
'People should be able to come as per their convenience.'

IMAGE: Vaccination in Bengaluru. Photograph: Shailendra Bhojak/PTI Photo
 

On May 11, former Union health secretary K Sujatha Rao tweeted, 'Govt of India has lost its credibility to say trust us. It's defence of an indefensible vaccine policy in the SC can be contested word for word. Hope SC sees thru it as only in vaccinating 70 percent of our pop in the next 4-5 months will we be safe. Every day delay is costing us.'

Her tweet came as severe COVID-19 vaccine shortages have hampered India's plan to administer jabs to all adults, with fewer than half of the states able to begin vaccinating over-18s amid warnings the shortfall could last months.

In an e-mail interview to Syed Firdaus Ashraf/Rediff.com, Rao says, "With the current speed it can take months. But that cannot be India's strategy. You have to increase supply and speed up."

People in cities like Mumbai are playing the 'fastest finger first' game on the CoWIN app to schedule a vaccine appointment. In this scenario what steps can the government take to ensure that the general public can get its vaccine smoothly?

Walk-ins as being carried out now. Centres like polling booths can also be set up for that area till the last adult is vaccinated there -- open on all days from 9-9. People should be able to come as per their convenience. We followed the election strategy for polio. It worked.

Do you think the government should not have opened up the vaccination drive for the 18-44 age group as this has resulted in shortage of vaccines and people above 45 years are unable to get a second dose?

Yes. It should have calibrated demand with supply and avoided the confusion. As it is, everything in this pandemic is so confusing and chaotic!

With the current speed of vaccination, how long do you think it will take for 70 per cent of India's population to get vaccinated?

With the current speed it can take months. But that cannot be India's strategy. You have to increase supply and speed up.

The central government has ruled out door-to-door vaccination. They say cold storage is not possible for vaccines if they go door-to-door. Do you feel it is right?

Door-to-door is operationally difficult, but one can always have 'as close to residence' as possible centres declared as vaccination sites.

In unreachable areas, mobile medical vans can also be used and vaccination camps can be held in villages. There are several possibilities. For that, the policy needs to be decentralised, inclusive and based on micro planning.

Congress leaders say that on January 18, 1997, India administered free polio vaccine to 127.3 million children which was a world record. Can't we repeat the same kind of success with the coronavirus vaccine?

You can if you follow similar methodologies.

Do you feel the states should be given the right to create their own apps for the vaccine as Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray has demanded?

CoWIN may be a good app... no problem. But the point is, what happens to those swathes of people who have no access to computers, smart phones or technology?

If CoWIN registrations are made mandatory -- the poor will be pushed to pay huge amounts to people 'helping' them register.

I think policies should not be drawn up on what one desires or is advisable, but what is feasible and realistic.

Everybody is talking of a third wave by August. If, say, 50 per cent of the population does not get vaccinated by July-end, will the third wave be more catastrophic than the second wave?

I can't say because it will depend on the strain and its characteristics. No one can predict anything (about the Covid third wave). One can only prepare ourselves for the worst scenario.

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SYED FIRDAUS ASHRAF / Rediff.com
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The War Against Coronavirus

The War Against Coronavirus