On the first day of the Union government’s new Covid-19 vaccination policy, 86,16,373 individuals were given vaccine jabs on Monday. This is a significant achievement, akin to vaccinating the whole population of, say, Switzerland, in one day. The government’s new policy of centralised procurement and distribution of vaccines has got off to an encouraging start. Under the new policy, the government is buying vaccines directly from manufacturers and distributing them to the states, freeing them from having to compete with each other before the manufacturers, and allowing them to focus on planning and executing processes on the ground. The surge in May and the inability of the states to procure vaccines had caused several states to suspend vaccination. The new policy also ended the bizarre differential pricing mechanism under which the states were being forced to buy vaccines at a higher cost than the Union government.
The new policy was announced five days after the Supreme Court made stinging observations about ‘arbitrary and irrational’ pricing under the previous policy, and asked the Centre to explain how the sum of Rs 35,000 crore earmarked for procuring vaccines in 2021-22 was being spent. The vaccination drive had been moving at a snail’s pace even as the second wave of the pandemic wreaked havoc across the country. India’s previous daily vaccination record was 45 lakh doses on April 5, but the numbers declined sharply after that. By the fourth week of April, the pace of vaccination was such that, with around 13 crore people given at least one dose, it was estimated it would take over eight years to vaccinate enough people to acquire herd immunity.
Monday, summer solstice, saw a record in vaccinations; but for India to achieve the target of inoculating 950 million adults by the winter solstice, the rate of vaccination needs to rise further — experts say that India must administer 10 million doses daily. As of now, around 5% of the eligible population is fully vaccinated. Thus, while it is heartening that India administered vaccine doses equalling Switzerland’s entire population in a single day, we must remind ourselves India’s population is 160 times Switzerland’s. India must maintain this pace for months to come.
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