In its final phase, India’s Covid vaccination project is wrestling with a new challenge. About 10.4 crore people, more than a tenth of those who have taken the first shot, have skipped their appointment with the second dose. Experts believe that vaccine hesitancy, misplaced fears of side effects or complacency fostered by the incorrect belief that a single dose provides a strong shield against the virus could be the reasons for this omission — a serious one given that it’s now well-established that the vaccines offer optimum immunity only after the second jab is administered and a growing body of scholarly literature testifies to the indispensability of complete inoculation for herd immunity. Governments at every level must, therefore, make renewed efforts to convince people to complete the regimen.
The first dose of the vaccine prepares the immune system to fight the virus and the second dose cements the protection. Several countries have had to carry extensive information campaigns to get this Covid-vaccination precept through to the general public. States in the US, for example, have run TV, radio and digital ads and officials have used social media to convey the importance of the second dose. Indian officials, healthcare professionals and frontline workers, who have so far done a commendable job in combating vaccine hesitancy, must now scale up their public awareness endeavours to tackle the new challenge. However, going by the experience from other parts of the world, such drives may not be enough. Countries, where a substantial section of the population has received at least one jab, are now resorting to disincentives for those opting out of inoculation. Canada, for instance, has asked federal government employees to declare their full vaccination by Friday. Passengers above 12 in the country must show their vaccination status on trains, domestic airlines and marine transport. A swab test is mandatory for people who are not fully inoculated for inter-state travel in several parts of India as well. But these norms are not always implemented with the stringency required to have the desired effect.
Last week, the day after India reached the milestone of 100-crore shots, Prime Minister Narendra Modi concluded his congratulatory speech on a note of caution. The virus continues to be amongst us, he said. It’s a measure of the PM’s social capital that such cautionary messages have struck a chord with the people at critical times during the pandemic. If need be, he shouldn’t desist from using this goodwill to impress on the people the importance of the second dose — for their own protection and that of their acquaintances and country people.
This editorial first appeared in the print edition on October 29, 2021 under the title ‘Missing the shot’.