NOW that a vaccine is almost here, administering it is no less challenging than containing the virus. Four states, including Punjab, have participated in a dummy exercise to assess readiness for what is being billed as India’s most ambitious mass immunisation programme. The Centre plans to cover 30 crore people in the first phase as and when the Covid-19 vaccine is rolled out. The dry run is meant to provide insights into any gaps before the commencement of the actual drive. Besides real-time checks on cold storage and transportation arrangements, also under scrutiny is the effectiveness of CoWIN, the flagship online platform for monitoring vaccine delivery, testing receipt and allocation, plus the deployment of teams.
The protocol involves sending an SMS to identified beneficiaries with the name of the vaccinator, and the time of the vaccination. Each candidate has to sit for 30 minutes after being administered the shot to check for any adverse reaction, to take note of which panels have been formed. The drill includes concurrent monitoring and collation of feedback. States are likely to come up with their own vaccination targets that can be met.
Who gets vaccinated first has been made clear in the priority list, but funding the programme and pricing are unresolved issues. So is the cost to be borne by states, reeling under financial strain? Given the limited capability of the public health system and the sheer numbers involved, how and in what capacity the private sector is involved could be crucial. The Centre has resolved to be exclusively responsible for procuring vaccines, but overpricing and black marketing in the rush to jump the queue are distinct possibilities. There could, in the near future, emerge a scenario where open sale is allowed of expensive vaccines that have not been picked up for the national programme. More than keeping a check on the rate being charged, the real test would be keeping tabs and monitoring the beneficiaries.