Misplaced priorities: Focus is on record vaccinations a day than consistency

Once again the government has turned daily vaccinations into a record-creating event instead of focusing on consistently administering a large number of doses each day.

On August 27, India set a new record for a single day’s vaccination when 10.7 million doses were administered, a steep increase from 8.3 million vaccinations on previous two days and over 6.3 million doses on August 23-24. However, the very next day after record vaccination, the numbers dropped sharply to 7.9 million; August 29 saw just 3.4 million doses being given, but Sundays have always registered low numbers.

A similar pattern was seen on June 21 when a record 8.7 million doses were administered on a single day but dropped the next day to 5.8 million and remained nearly stable at over six million for a week; the number of doses administered fell to three-four million in the first half of July.

Even on August 16, 8.8 million doses were given but vaccinations fell to less than six million for the next three days and over six million till August 24.

The record 8.7 million immunisations on June 21 appeared more to coincide with the day when the revised COVID-19 vaccination strategy — where the government procured 75% of the COVID-19 vaccines produced and supplied them to States for free — came into effect.

Though 10.7 million doses administered on August 27 does not coincide with any occasion, it does suggest that the intent was more to achieve a “momentous feat” of crossing the 10-million mark; the steep fall in vaccinations the very next day gives rise to scepticism.

During the pandemic, the focus should not be on setting records but on consistently vaccinating a large number of people every day and ensuring that vaccines are available at all centres on all days; uncertainty in vaccine availability does not help in increasing uptake especially among the poor.

With vaccination being a safe and sure way to drastically cut the risk of hospitalisation due to severe COVID-19 disease and death, all efforts should be to quickly and consistently vaccinate large numbers of people each day. For this, equitable supply of a large number of vaccine doses to all States on a regular basis is needed.

One sure way to increase the number of doses administered on a daily basis is when the government procures 100% of vaccines produced with no separate allocation to private hospitals. Precious time and doses were wasted between May and July 15 when private hospitals utilised only 7-9% of vaccines produced to immunise people against an allotment of 25%.

The government has belatedly revised the June 7 policy such that manufacturers will not set aside 25% of vaccines produced for private hospitals but instead supply as per demand and allot the remaining to the government.

If the rationale for allowing the manufacturers to sell vaccines to private hospitals at a higher price was to fund vaccine research, the small uptake by the private hospitals does not meet that objective. Hence the government should procure all the vaccines produced as this will help in better vaccine allotment to States, reduce vaccine inequity and increase uptake, and State governments can plan daily vaccination strategies in a more organised manner. 

Published in The Hindu on August 31, 2021