The Covid-19 vaccination drive in the country is set to gain momentum with the Centre deciding to rope in 20,000 private hospitals for providing the jabs to those who can pay for them. From next week, those above 60 and over 45 with health problems can go to any of the 10,000 government-run vaccination centres, where no money would be charged, or to the private hospitals. The welcome move follows urgent appeals from business leaders, who warned of the risk of a disruptive new wave of cases unless private players were permitted to help accelerate the rollout. The modalities are yet to be formalised, but there is a need to drastically increase the number of facilities authorised to administer the vaccine, if not on March 1 itself then soon enough.
Since India has ample stockpiles and the pharma giants have the ability to produce additional doses to meet the demand, the second phase of the vaccination programme could see a decisive push, after a rather sluggish first phase of doses for frontline and health workers. Given the hold and dependence on private players in the healthcare sector, their entry is bound to be a game-changer. But a statutory warning is essential. The authorisation to vaccinate the vast population has to be seen as a national duty, not an opportunity to profiteer. The private sector will have to be its own conscience-keeper, and take the oath of acting responsibly with self-regulation.
Going forward, there would arise the need to allow access to other vaccines, ramp up dose production and allow large institutions to hold camps on campuses to vaccinate the staff with strict monitoring. After a precipitous drop in daily new confirmed cases, there has been a surge in recent days. The pandemic is baring fangs at people who had declared its exit. The decision to step up the pace of the vaccination drive gives a fighting chance to stay ahead of the pandemic curve.