With the better part of the year having been spent fighting the pandemic, that the country is now on the verge of launching a vaccination programme for Covid-19, will sound encouraging despite the enormity of the task. The vaccine for the virus is being made possible with painstaking research, both on an indigenous basis and with foreign collaboration. But in a country with as huge a population as India, administering the vaccine to target groups will come with its fair share of challenges. Already, talks are on with companies abroad to arrange for storage, with some like the Pfizer-made jab, requiring very low temperatures for safekeeping.
Also, vaccines have to be safe, effective and reliable. While the example of an 87-year-old Indian-origin man, Hari Shukla, being among the first to get the vaccine in Britain is heartening, the case of Haryana Health Minister Anil Vij testing positive for Covid-19, despite being administered the first dose of the trial vaccine, is bound to raise questions about the safety protocol and efficacy. The two-dose vaccine will also need watching out for any adverse effect. While the government may be right in pointing out the need to give the first dose to frontline healthcare workers because they are more at risk, administering the vaccine will also mean adding to the workload of the healthcare staff, already stretched because of the outbreak.
There are plans to use mobile technology to reach the vaccine, especially in remote and rural areas, besides those on the margins. Digital technology no doubt helped negotiate the tough conditions in the aftermath of the pandemic, but that the vaccine will have to be administered physically means that technology will ultimately act only as a facilitator, for human interface will still be required. It will also mean technology upgrade even as health experts believe tele-consultation is no substitute for a physical check-up. As India narrows down its choice of vaccines, their suitability will depend in terms of pricing, storage and transport. Mass vaccination is also going to take time, well into the next year. It promises to be a long road ahead.