India’s vaccination programme needs rapid ramp-up: Experts

As daily cases rise steadily once again in India, experts have called for a rapid ramp-up of the vaccination programme which they say is getting hampered by rigid rules such as age restrictions, narrow definition of frontline workers, and excessive central control of vaccine distribution.

“Of course, elderly people should be on the priority. But it’s about time to open it for everybody or at least for people who are above 30 years of age,” said Anoop Misra, chairman, Fortis C-Doc, a multi-specialty hospital in Delhi. India has vaccinated over 2.4 crore people since it began its immunization drive about two months ago, and in absolute numbers this constitutes the largest number after the US and China which began administering jabs a month before India.


In percentage terms, however, the country lags much behind UK, Israel, UAE, Chile and other countries. Given India’s population, cross-country comparisons are not valid, but if the country does not accelerate its inoculation programme, it will take several years before the entire population gets its jab.

“We are making the same mistake as we did with our testing drive. We have enough supply; yet we are not making use of it,” said a scientist with knowledge of vaccines, who did not wish to be quoted. So far India has procured approximately 41 million doses of Covishield vaccines from Pune-based Serum Institute of India (SII) and 10 million doses of Covaxin from Bharat Biotech.

Earlier this week, SII told the Delhi High Court it is manufacturing 60 million doses a month. The company has previously said it has the capacity to manufacture 100 million doses a month. Subhash Salunke, an advisor to the Maharashtra government on vaccination, earlier this week criticized the central government for controlling the vaccination drive and not allowing state governments to run the drive.

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“We can vaccinate 25 to 30 crore people in a month if the Centre did not control the vaccine distribution,” Salunke said. A senior government official, however, defended the vaccination drive. “We can vaccinate 20 lakh people daily but we are not able to achieve the target. It’s not correct to say we haven’t created enough capacity. People have to come to the vaccination centres in larger numbers to avail the benefit,” he said. When asked whether the government will allow vaccines to be sold and bought in the open market, he said those who are at highest risk should be covered first.


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