Healing thyself with Covid Kavach

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As Covid-19 began spreading its tentacles, the nation also pulled up its socks and responded by developing its own vaccine in astonishingly quick time. While the vaccination has taken off in right earnest, India has also been magnanimous in providing a healing touch to its neighbouring countries proving that “Aatmanirbhar Bharat” wasn’t just a rhetorical slogan, says Gajanan Khergamker. .

India rose to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call for self-reliance and became Aatmanirbhar by creating its own vaccine and pulling off what was nothing short of a miracle. When, in India, all looked lost towards the third quarter of last year, with regard to the Covid pandemic, the nation swiftly seemed to have got its act together even before the year ended. Coronavirus figures began to dip and how. And now, till February third week, India vaccinated 1,01,88,007 healthcare workers and frontline workers so far.

For a nation whose vaccination drive had begun only on 16 January 2021, the showing wasn’t modest by any stretch of imagination. The Union Health Ministry maintained India’s vaccination coverage ranked third in the world, after the USA (55.2 million doses) and the UK (16.12 million doses).
Vaccination at record speed

India, incidentally, began inoculating its people to fight the Covid pandemic from January 16th this year and administered its first 10 million vaccine doses in a period that was the second quickest drive in world. The nation had to battle lingering hesitancy among some people and technical glitches losing the pace race to United States which reached its first 10 million figure in 31 days – three days before India made her mark. United Kingdom, on its part, took 56 days to surpass the figure.

In the overwhelming effort, twelve states and union territories vaccinated over 75 per cent of all the healthcare workers who had been registered on the government’s Co-WIN portal. Among the states topping the list was Bihar with 84.7 per cent coverage, followed by Tripura with 82.9 per cent and Odisha with 81.8 per cent. Sadly, Delhi lies in the list of the seven states and union territories with less than 50 per centvaccine coverage. So far, only 46.5 per cent of the registered healthcare workers in Delhi have received their first shots. The lowest coverage was reported in Puducherry where only 30.2 per cent have been immunised. Puducherry was followed by Chandigarh where 34.3 per cent received the shot and Punjab where 38.4 per cent received it. The vaccination drive aims to immunise 10 million healthcare workers, 20 million frontline workers, 260 million people above the age of 50, and 10 million people with severe co-morbidities.

World pharmacy at work

For India, plugged as the ‘pharmacy of the world,’ that produced 60 per cent of the vaccines for global use even before the pandemic struck, supply was never a problem. India already had the world’s largest immunisation programme, delivering 390 million doses annually to protect against diseases like tuberculosis and measles. There was an existing infrastructure that would make Covid-19 vaccine distribution easier. Also, in order to brace for the vaccination, the government had organised dry runs across the nation. The Covid precaution phone tones were replaced with a message urging people to get vaccinated.

In early January, India announced a goal to inoculate 300 million people by August. However, only 8.4 million received a vaccine in the first month, far from the government’s goal. Vaccinations were made available primarily for frontline health workers and, in some places, police officers and soldiers. It’s a matter of time before the numbers start to pick up and India manages to notch the prerequisite numbers to bide over the pandemic.

Record exports to boot

From the time India started her vaccination drive till mid-February, the government had exported more than 1.6 crore doses of Covid-19 vaccines to 20 countries to help save lives. The nations ranged from those in India’s immediate neighbourhood, like Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, Afghanistan and Myanmar to 6.2 lakh doses cumulatively to Maldives, Mauritius, Seychelles, Bahrain, Oman, Barbados and Dominica.

India, on her part, has also approved the shipment of Covid-19 vaccine to Cambodia following a request from the Cambodian PM Hun Sen and plans to supply Mongolia and Pacific Island states even as supplies from India continue to reach Afghanistan too. India’s strength, as the world’s largest manufacturer of vaccines for myriad diseases, is aimed to improve regional ties and counter China’s political and economic dominance.

‘Priority’ as much as US population

The ‘priority’ population to be vaccinated in India is close to the entire population of the US. In comparison, the UK would be vaccinating just a tenth of the volume (3 crore, around 50per cent of its population) in the first phase. The Serum Institute of India has, so far, committed 100 million doses of Covishield at a discounted price of around Rs 200 a piece to the government and could supply additional doses of the vaccine if the government orders more. According to official versions, the biotech and pharma company has the capacity to produce 100 million doses of the vaccine every month.

Bharat Biotech MD Krishna Ella, in reports, maintained the availability of Covaxin would be limited to around 150 million doses till July this year. And, besides these two, there are other vaccine candidates, too. Zydus Cadila’s ZyCoV-D and Russian vaccine Sputnik-V, produced domestically by Dr Reddy’s Laboratories, are presently undergoing clinical trials. These will, conditional to their efficacy being proven, be available by around March 2021. Incidentally, as supply in the country is regulated by the government, citizens cannot seek vaccination, even if they are willing to pay for it, unless the government allows them to do so.

Medical staffers are the first in line to receive the vaccine. About one crore doctors and ward staff who work in public and private healthcare facilities across the country are the first to receive the vaccine. Next in line are two crore frontline Corona warriors — people in essential services in addition to armed forces, paramilitary and police personnel.

The essential service providers range from sanitation workers at COVID-19 facilities, cleaners and waste collectors in cities to those who man public transport. Also, municipal staff such as engineers, revenue officials and staff at crematoriums are to be considered front-line warriors. Vaccination for these three crore people is expected to be free.

The government plans to launch a mobile app to enable self-registration once the process opens up for the non-priority groups. For this, any valid ID recognised by the government such as Driving Licence, Voter Card, PAN, Aadhaar, Passport, Passbooks issued by banks and post offices and MNREGA job cards can be used for registration.

Self-registration in time

That apart, the government also plans to facilitate self-registration through the Common Service Centres, set up by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology to offer e-services in rural and remote areas.
Those above 50 years of age and those suffering from serious co-morbidities making them vulnerable to Covid-19 infection are said to be around 27 crore in the country. Although their lists are still in the making, considering their high-risk status, their vaccine shots are expected to be fast-tracked.

According to operational guidelines for a Covid-19 vaccination strategy released by the Health Ministry recently, the names of those above the age of 50 will be taken from the electoral rolls prepared for the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections.

In this priority group, too, there will be age-wise sub-categories, with senior citizens getting shots earlier than those between 50 and 60 years of age.

India’s tryst with Coronavirus has been legendary and, true to her nature, she has – once again – led the rest of the world towards recovery and health with vaccines cheap, durable and within the reach of the common man.


Gajanan Khergamker

Gajanan Khergamker is an independent Editor, Solicitor and Film-maker. He is the founder of the International Think Tank DraftCraft.

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