Being ready: On vaccination and India’s third COVID-19 wave

Vaccination was shown to have been a life saver during the third wave of the pandemic

March 05, 2022 01:10 am | Updated 11:46 am IST

The COVID-19 pandemic is on a discernible wane. Just a month ago, India was reporting around 1,70,000 cases a day and the latest numbers suggest it has plummeted to around 6,000. India is now contributing to only 0.7% of global cases. Last year this time, cases were below 5,000 a day, encouraging several States and the Centre to claim that the pandemic was over, though within a matter of weeks there was a resurgence fuelled by the Delta variant which birthed a summer of catastrophe. There is, however, a crucial distinction between then and now in that over 75% of those over 15 years are now fully vaccinated in India. A small and growing number of those over 60 have had the third dose. Reports suggest that over 90% of Indians have been exposed to the virus over the last two years and, therefore, combined with the vaccination, are sufficiently protected against disease — but not infection — for many more months ahead. What bears emphasis is that avoiding vaccination makes one, particularly the elderly, vulnerable to serious infection. Balram Bhargava, Director-General, ICMR, said at a press conference this week that 92% of those who died of COVID-19 since January this year were unvaccinated, and underlined that vaccines and the wide vaccination coverage had played an important role in protecting hundreds of lives.

India is fortunate in that it does not have to battle vaccine hesitancy in a large measure. The initial scepticism regarding the vaccines not having passed the typical stages of vaccine approval saw a certain degree of hesitation, but very soon it emerged, in April and May last year, that India’s main problem was an insufficient number of vaccines. Though India today has administered nearly 178 crore vaccine doses and has several indigenously developed vaccines that have been approved in emergency mode by authorities, there are still serious questions on supply. Currently, vaccine demand is low and the vaccination drive is in ‘mop up mode’ and administering second doses. But were the pandemic situation to suddenly turn for a fourth wave to take shape, there would be a spike in demand for vaccinations for children, particularly those below 15, as well as booster doses for adults. The experience of Covaxin’s manufacturer being unable to ramp up vaccinations in time during the crisis months ought to be a persistent reminder to other biotechnology companies that having vaccines is very different from being ready with a seamless supply chain. The Indian government has still not made public a timeline for when vaccines from Biological E, Gennova and Zydus Cadila will be practically available for mass use. Though the world is occupied with a different crisis, India must not let its guard down and should insist on companies being ready with a measurable timeline.

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