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Thursday, October 21, 2021

Vaccination data must now be used to protect most vulnerable, address persistent hesitancy

The health ministry’s data, collected during the first seven weeks of the second wave, testifies to the mitigating role of vaccines when the contagion was at its virulent worst.

By: Editorial |
Updated: October 1, 2021 9:27:08 am
More than a quarter of the eligible population has now received both shots of the vaccine, and nearly 69 per cent have been administered one shot.

India’s Covid vaccination drive enters a crucial phase today. Close to 100 crore vaccinations, an average of more than one crore shots every day, need to be administered in the next three months to attain the government’s target of inoculating every adult Indian by the end of this year. The country has been averaging 76 lakh doses daily for about a month now, an appreciable improvement from the July average of 45 lakh doses. The project requires another ramp up in the year’s last quarter. But the supply issue is nowhere as problematic as it was three months ago. The one-crore mark was, in fact, exceeded on four days in September — on September 17, more than 2.5 crore Indians received the jab. What might, however, push the project into the next year is that about 30 per cent of the adult population has not yet received a single shot. The 12-week gap between two doses of Covishield, the vaccine that has largely driven the drive, makes a spillover to early 2022 likely. The carryover was not unexpected given the scale of the project. The government must ensure that the target is not missed by much. It must undertake another equally significant task: It must find out what has kept about 30 crore Indians away from the most potent shield against the coronavirus. This could help provide crucial details about the project’s reach and plug gaps.

More than a quarter of the eligible population has now received both shots of the vaccine, and nearly 69 per cent have been administered one shot. These are reassuring figures at a time when epidemiologists are expressing concerns about a possible third wave, following the festive season. What is worrying, however, is that about 24 per cent of the population in the 60 plus age group — the most vulnerable — is still unvaccinated. The health ministry’s data, collected during the first seven weeks of the second wave, testifies to the mitigating role of vaccines when the contagion was at its virulent worst. It shows that fatalities amongst unvaccinated people over 60 years of age were almost 50 times more than those in this age group who had received at least one jab. This was also the period when the country was beset by acute vaccine shortage. With supplies going northwards since the last week of June — after the Supreme Court’s direction brought about a change in the Centre’s distribution strategy — and state governments equipped with prior knowledge of vaccine availability, there is a case for local administrations undertaking targeted drives to protect the most vulnerable and prevent a possible third wave from turning lethal.

In the past three months, local authorities have reported appreciable success in removing vaccine hesitancy. By all accounts, however, this bane of the vaccination project isn’t over. The government’s endeavours to collect vaccine-related data must not remain impervious to this conundrum. How many of those who haven’t received even one shot are vaccine hesitant, and why? The answer to this question will help join dots, resolve some vexing problems that remain.

This editorial first appeared in the print edition on October 1, 2021 under the title ‘The final stretch’.

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