Topic: General Studies 2:
- Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
Towards an effective vaccination distribution policy
Context: India plans to vaccinate 300 million people against COVID-19 over the next 6-7 months.
Key Challenges for the government
- Vaccination large numbers in quick time: The government plans to give priority to healthcare workers and other front-line workers, followed by everyone who is above 50 years of age. This will mean that roughly 20% of the population will be vaccinated by July or August 2021.
- Procurement of Vaccines: Since all the vaccines that are currently in the spotlight require two doses, the government will have to acquire 600 million doses.
Steps taken by Government towards Vaccination
- Pune’s Serum Institute of India is the world’s largest producer of vaccines. There are reports that the government has already struck a deal with the Serum Institute to acquire 500 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
- Emergency authorisation for this vaccine is likely to follow soon.
- There are other vaccine frontrunners including Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin and the Russian Sputnik V whose clinical trials in India are being conducted by Reddy’s Labs.
- So, provided that there are no last-minute setbacks, the government should have no problems in acquiring the required number of doses.
What should be the guiding principle of Vaccination drive?
A vaccination drive such as this should have two distinct objectives:
- one, providing protection to those vaccinated,
- Two, to minimise or at least slow down the speed and spread of the viral transmission.
Who gets Priority?
- The government’s strategy of giving priority to front-line workers and elderly people is in line with the practice being followed in the U.K. and the U.S., the two major countries that have been the leaders in the COVID-19 vaccination drive.
- The rationale for this is to protect those who are most likely to be infected in the future as well as those who are most vulnerable to the health consequences of the infection.
- Vaccinating healthcare professionals satisfy both the above mentioned objectives: these are individuals who have high levels of exposure and they also act as active disease vectors since they interact with large numbers of people.
- However, the priority given to older people may not actually minimise the total social and economic cost inflicted by the virus in the long run. The elderly are less mobile, have a lower level of social interaction, and are hence less likely to spread the virus.
- Alternative Suggestions: A younger person who interacts with a larger number of people is both more likely to be infected and subsequently infect others. This suggests that densely populated areas — for instance, the Dharavi slum — should receive far more attention than they are likely to get under the current strategy.
What about involving Private hospital in vaccination drive?
- The government’s procurement strategy seems to depend entirely on domestic sources. It also plans to rely entirely on public resources for distribution without involving private hospitals.
- Moreover, the government plans to bear the entire cost of vaccination.
- Alternative proposition: Suppose Pfizer or some other multinational pharmaceutical company approaches the government both for authorisation of a vaccine as well as for permission to import and sell (for a profit) to those who can afford it.
- Any approval from the government for private players will enable the affluent to jump the vaccination queue. This will inevitably attract the charge that the government is catering to the interests of the richer groups in the population.
- But perhaps a more dispassionate analysis would suggest that allowing the private sector will help provide additional supplies of the vaccine especially when interests of the poor are taken into account by government.
- The government will and should continue to procure all available domestically produced vaccines and supply them through its own distribution channel to people especially the poorer sections of society
- Another potential benefit of allowing private players is that the larger the numbers who get vaccinated, the lower will be the speed of virus transmission amongst the non-vaccinated.
- The government must examine the principle underlying the vaccination scheme and whether private players should be allowed space
Connecting the dots: