By Gyan Pathak
With the launch of the World’s biggest immunization drive on January 16, India is all set to create a history, but with several ominous signs too. The whole vaccine rollout plan, as stands after the meeting of our Prime Minister and Chief Ministers of the states, sets top priority on perceived threats over the real threats, indicative of someone having laymen’s ideas calling the shots in the name of experts to prevail over all reasons and common sense. On the one hand some new biological threats, such and new strains of corona virus and bird flu, appear to be increasing, and on the other many vested interest groups are trying to derail India’s vaccination programme. Prime Minister has himself cautioned the Chief Ministers about the threat.
The public expectation on PM and CMs’ meet on January 11 is not met with desired outcome. Our political leadership seemed either blindly relying on so called ‘expert views that formed the basis of the vaccine rollout plan’ or it has been designed so intentionally on the basis of ‘ideas of someone’ to appease him and to save themselves from the rigors of the scientific and well thought and planned exercise. Whatever be the case, it is not good for the nation or its people, especially those who are at risk of losing their life. The meeting even seemed to be unaware of the need to “tweak” both diagnostics and vaccine in the light of spreading new strains as well as changing the response to deal with residual challenges on the ground beyond the present action.
At the time when the meeting was been held, there were only 4 lakh live COVID-19 cases, if we are to believe the government data. Who are at real risks of being infected? Not the entire nation but the patients and those who are in their proximity, such as their family members, medical professionals, and other dealing with them. All others are perceived to be at risk not at real risk. In the first state of the vaccine rollout plan one crore healthcare workers are to be vaccinated irrespective of theirs being at risk or not, while others persons at real risk on account of proximity with COVID-19 patients will have to wait. This is clearly not a wise decision, because all the healthcare workers of all the regions of the country are not at all at risk.
Prime Minister has informed the chief ministers that the total cost at this stage of vaccination for 3 crore people will be borne by the Union Government, which is a good decision, but spending money from the exchequer not on the people really at risk but on the people who are merely perceived at risk is a bad decision, at a time when there is a short supply of money and vaccines. It also indicates the uncertainties about availability of fund from the Union Government to the fund starved State Governments for the next stages of the vaccination.
In the second stage of vaccination of the phase one two crore frontline workers would undergo vaccination. It would also be based on profession and the perceived threat ignoring the real threats to other people. In the third stage, 26 crore people of above 50 years of age will be vaccinated ignoring people of other age groups at real risk, and even those with comorbidities. The people below the age of 50 years with comorbidites, even though at actual risks, will be inoculated in the fourth stage of the first phase, who are about one crore. In the first phase 30 crore people will be inoculated in this manner, which is clearly not based on the real risk and need of the people, but on mere idea of the government that it considers supreme.
Vaccine to the people at risk is not seemed to be based on any scientific analysis on the ground, but on other considerations, such as the manner that suits the government and easier to plan and implement in a simplistic manner. The principle of the containment zone has been done away with. With the present plan of action even the people living in the containment zones will not get vaccines if they don’t fall the government categories, while the people falling in their categories having no risk of the contagion and living outside the containment zone will get these. The present strategy of prioritization also ignores even 6.5 per cent of adults under 50 years of age having diabetes. Other comorbidities such as high blood pressure, in included, the percentage will be much higher. Since India don’t have latest data for all the states, government should have planned with more open mind, to be able to respond to future emergencies and challenges in course of implementation of the drive.
The other risk factors are still there because the vaccines still need further trials. Presently, they are approved for only emergency use. “Rumours and misinformation” about which the Prime Minister has warned the chief ministers revolve round this fact. And there are even corporate rivals too, cautioned our Prime Minister. It is certainly indicative of “business interest” in the whole affair of this biggest immunization drive of the world. There have already been allegations of “money-making conspiracy” behind the ‘spread of corona’ and the manner of the ‘response of the government and other players’ thereafter. Prime Minister warns about the threat of derailment, but has not revealed what his government has planned to counter this threat, if there is any as he claims.
There are more vaccines in the pipeline and are expected to arrive by the time India starts inoculating senior citizens and those with comorbidities. The present stage of implementation will take at least three months if rollout remains smooth with no other new challenges. It required utmost care. Since it is absent from the very action plan of the day, smooth rollout and effective future response is doubtful. Infrastructure and logistics are yet to be improved in the light of the experience of the two dry runs conducted across the country. “We have to be more responsible,” the Prime Minister said in the meeting, but unfortunately it does not reflect in the present plan of action. (IPA Service)