India’s vaccination drive against COVID-19, targeting 3 crore healthcare personnel and frontline workers, will commence from January 16. Coordination systems between 20 ministries are reportedly being put in place and the government has framed a set of guidelines for the rollout that deal with logistics, human resources and monitoring systems to report adverse events. Dry runs have been conducted in more than 700 districts to acquaint the administrative agencies and vaccinators with some of the challenges that lie ahead. These exercises have shone a light on the gaps that must be plugged before the first shots are administered.
Digital systems have a key role in the vaccination plan. Nearly 80 lakh beneficiaries in the first priority list have reportedly registered on the Centre’s COVID Vaccine Intelligence Network (Co-WIN) system — “a digitalised platform to track the enlisted beneficiaries for vaccination on a real-time basis”. The challenge now is to make the manual interventions to this platform foolproof and user-friendly for ASHA and other healthcare workers involved in the last-mile delivery of the vaccine. Care must also be taken to obviate server malfunctioning that has been a longstanding bane of IT-enabled services in the country. There have been reports of the Co-Win app not performing as per plans during the mock drills — officials in several parts of the country have complained that the platform did not show the names of all the targeted beneficiaries. Also, last week, this paper reported that codes of some villages in Andhra Pradesh, Punjab, Gujarat and Assam were not mapped on the Co-Win platform. Experts have rightly warned that such snags could prevent intended beneficiaries from keeping their date with the vaccine, and even more worryingly, erode trust in the inoculation process. The Union Ministries of Health and Information Technology are reportedly collaborating on bolstering the IT infrastructure and have sought inputs from private players.
The government plans to administer the vaccine to 30 crore people in the first two phases of the inoculation drive. According to current plans, each person will be administered two doses of a vaccine. In other words, 60 crore shots will be administered in the next six to eight months. Nearly one lakh vaccinators will be involved in the process. The dry runs have bared the inadequacies, especially in reporting adverse events. Healthcare officials have also expressed apprehensions that such a large-scale project, involving conversion of PHCs into vaccination points, could result in the disruption of regular health services, including routine immunisation programmes and institutional deliveries — already there are concerns that the country’s TB control programme has suffered a setback because of resources being diverted for COVID-19 control. The coming months could be exacting for the country’s healthcare system. How it steps up to the demands of the moment will be watched.