Synopsis: The government must examine the principle underlying the triage scheme for optimised use of resources.
- Over the next 6-7 months, India plans to vaccinate 300 million people against COVID-19 by prioritizing healthcare workers, other front-line workers and everyone who is above 50 years of age.
- To vaccinate 300 million people, India requires 600 million doses as two doses are required per individual.
- However, government will not have problems in acquiring the required number of doses as it has already struck a deal with the Serum Institute to acquire 500 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine and also the availability of other vaccines such as Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin and the Russian Sputnik V are also high.
- But the strategies that they have planned for distribution of vaccines needs to be examined.
What are the Issues and dilemmas in the triage scheme?
- First, government’s strategy of prioritizing the elderly people need to be re-examined because,
- Vaccination drive should have two distinct objectives, one, providing protection to those vaccinated, and two to slow down the speed and spread of the viral transmission.
- Providing vaccination to healthcare professionals is not in conflict with the above objective because 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.
- But, prioritising the elderly people needs to be re-examined because the elderly is less mobile and have a lower level of social interaction, they are less likely to spread the virus. So, in the long run, prioritising the elderly people may not actually minimise the total social and economic cost inflicted by the virus.
- 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.
- Second, the government should permit private suppliers to import and distribute the vaccine in India because,
- Currently, government’s procurement strategy relies entirely on public resources for distribution and the government plans to bear the entire cost of vaccination without involving private hospitals.
- But, allowing the private sector to provide additional supplies of the vaccine would not really be a bad policy decision if it would not decrease the availability of the vaccine to the poor.
- With more and more vaccines getting approval such as the Moderna vaccine in US, there will be a significant boost in the global supply of COVID-19 vaccines which mandates the need for involving private suppliers.
- Benefits that accrue owing to such decisions are, less waiting time for the less affluent as some of the richer individuals in the target group will opt out of the government distribution system and prefer to get vaccinated at some private outlet owing to increase in supply.
- Another potential benefit accruing to the entire population is that the larger the numbers who get vaccinated, the lower will be the speed of virus transmission amongst the non-vaccinated.
- Also, there are some cost benefits, for example, Belgian Minister has revealed that the European Union has agreed to pay for leading COVID-19 vaccines is substantially lower than the prices of Moderna and Pfizer. Given the large size of India’s market India has the bargaining power advantage