India Needs an Effective Vaccine Policy

SynopsisThe surge in Covid-19 cases coupled with a limited supply of vaccines warrants the adoption of an effective vaccine policy by the country. The policy should prioritize groups, address hesitancy and formulate a more equitable distribution plan.

Background:
  • The second wave of Covid-19 has shown that the virus is not going away in a short time. It may strike the country multiple times in the coming years.
  • In this scenario, the best possible way is to vaccinate the population in order to build effective immunity against the virus and reduce the death tolls. However, there are multiple concerns that demand changes to make vaccination policy effective. 
Concerns regarding vaccine policy:
  • Limited Supply of Vaccines: The country is facing a shortage of vaccines due to production constraints and import resistances.
    • Technicalities of vaccine production make it likely that indigenous manufacturers will require 3 to 6 months to increase capacity significantly. 
      • For instance, the novel mRNA vaccine candidate (HGCO19) can’t be developed by Gennova Biopharmaceuticals Ltd. without support from HDT Biotech corporation, U.S.
    • Similarly, the enhancement of the import of vaccines can take place only after August 2021. It is when wealthy nations would have made substantial progress in the immunization of their populations.
  • Vaccine Hesitancy: People are showing unwillingness to vaccinate themselves as they doubt the efficacy of vaccines. 
    • One of the reasons is the halt in the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine (Covishield) by some countries due to concerns over blood clots, etc. It contributed to doubts about the safety of vaccines in India.
  • Target Groups: The limited supply has created a challenge of choosing amongst the multiple groups for vaccination. India needs to choose between the most vulnerable (elders, comorbidities patients) and the most valuable (working population). The former will reduce the death toll and the latter would be more beneficial for economic revival.
  • Distribution Concerns: The current policy has allowed vaccination for all adults however it does not tell the order of distribution. 
    • The state governments are now compelled to bear all the costs of vaccination. This may give an advantage to wealthier states over poor states.
    • Further, it allows market forces to decide on vaccine access for a substantial part of the population and calls for using technology (Co win portal) to get vaccinated. 
    • This has allowed the least vulnerable to get vaccinated early as they possess more resources.
Way Forward:
  • The central government should pioneer in both – enhancing the supply and formulating a policy to ensure equitable access to vaccines.
    • It should avoid transferring expenses to State governments and shouldn’t allow the private sector to decide vaccine access.
  • The country should take the help of behavioral scientists to combat vaccine hesitancy and ensure that the population is vaccinated.
  • The target groups must be selected on the basis of vulnerability. However, if this is impractical, then some combination of the vulnerable and working population should be chosen. This should be worked out using data and the basis of the decision should be made public.

Source: The Hindu  

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