In the coming few months, India will witness a great event in its history — the great Covid vaccination exercise. Corona vaccination is one of the most anticipated events in every country. India is no exception to this.
Multiple vaccines have succeeded in Phase-III trials. They are likely to get regulatory approval in the US and Europe in the coming weeks. Indian regulatory approvals will follow. However, while making a good vaccine was the difficult part, equally challenging will be sourcing, distributing and injecting the vaccine doses into the arms of every Indian citizen.
This will be a mammoth exercise, and our preparation for this needs to begin now.
Even though the actual production of the vaccine maybe a few months away, there are a lot of other steps we must take as a nation right now if we want the vaccination exercise to go smoothly the moment the doses are available.
For India, the magnitude of the task at hand is huge. If we have 1.3 billion Indians, a two-dose vaccine (such as Moderna or Oxford vaccine) implies 2.6 billion doses that need to be given across the nation. If we aim to do this over a period of three to six months, we are talking lakhs of trucks (with cold storage facilities)
making millions of journeys across the nation round the clock. It also means lakhs of healthcare workers vaccinating Indians in every town and city. This exercise, if not done smoothly, could turn into chaos — something that happens in India often.
The world’s attention will be on us. This is a chance for us to show that we can do this well. We do not want visuals of serpentine queues of people unable to get the vaccine, or of hospitals who run out of supplies, or news reports of doses going bad during transportation. We don’t want a black market for the vaccine. We don’t want politics (arguments like state ruled by party X did a better job than state ruled by party Y). We don’t want Twitter fights and blame games. Instead, we want to show the world that when it comes to the crunch, India knows how to come together.
Just as we come together in the World Cup final, or during border skirmishes, the corona vaccination would foremost require a mindset of unity. We all must ensure that every Indian gets the vaccine, without fear or favour, irrespective of religion, gender, ethnicity,
region, language or whatever else we normally like to fight about. For this is not a normal time. This is an extraordinary time. This is a time to make history.
First of all, and starting now, we need to get every state to submit their needs. Needles, syringes and the little alcohol swabs rubbed at the vaccine spot — all that can be arranged right now, even though the actual vaccine doses will come in a while. Most importantly, the states have to give the cost of the entire vaccination exercise for their state, which would be in thousands of crores. The central and state governments have to negotiate on who is paying for these costs.
Again, all this should be done now. The last thing we want is vaccine doses to be sitting in customs, facing expiry.
If we prepare all this in the next two months, we will be well positioned to do a mass vaccination exercise from January onwards. We must have a clear priority order on who gets the vaccine first. Priorities will be decided based on risk factors (healthcare workers get it first for example) and the strength of the outbreak (places with high numbers of cases get it first).
Again, the entire set of priorities should be decided now. We don’t want to argue the hell out of each other in evening TV debates on who gets it first, while the actual vaccine stock loses its efficacy in some dinghy storage room. Plan now.
If we do our preparations right and set our priorities right, we can start in January 2021 and vaccinate a major part of the population by May 2021. We could, therefore, eliminate Covid and be back to normal in terms of economic activity by June next year.
If we don’t plan or execute properly, we could lose another six to 12 months of economic activity, not to mention a lot more lives.
India can do this if we all work together. Sure, despite all plans, there will be hiccups, as expected in any massive exercise like this. However, we have to remain as one through it all. Non-partisan, non-argumentative, non-left or right. We just need to put our heads down and do the work until all of us are vaccinated.
Executing this well will make Indians safe and bring our economy back. Let’s join hands and extend our arms to get the jab we have
been waiting for. In 2021, together, let us make corona history!