india covid vaccine
A man argues with a policewoman as he waits with others to receive COVID-19 vaccine outside a vaccination centre in Mumbai, India Image Credit: AP

A ray of hope has emerged in India’s battle against an unprecedented surge of Covid-19 cases, with the number of new infections and positivity rates showing a gradual decline from the record global highs a few days ago. That trend coincides with a cumulative 190 million Covid vaccine shots being administered across the country till Saturday.

In isolation, these would be impressive numbers for inoculation in any country. Instead, India’s vaccination strategy is now caught up in a quagmire of confusion, vacillation and acute supply crisis.

It is indeed a humungous task that awaits any government trying to battle a surge of 400,000-plus COVID-19 cases in a day, and even the best laid plans go awry on the face of such a crisis. But in India, it’s the absence of any cohesive plan in the first place that seems to be hurting the most.

A logistical nightmare

The national vaccination programme got off to an impressive start and in early April, daily jabs peaked at 3.6 million. But since then, it has devolved into a logistical nightmare — with hardly any supply of vaccines available.

The situation has forced states such as Delhi, Maharashtra and Karnataka to suspend vaccinations for the 18-44 years age group. Millions more people have been unable to secure any vaccine appointments despite trying for weeks.

The government’s ambitious target of two billion doses to be produced between August and the year-end would go a long way to fully vaccinate India’s entire population of 1.3 billion. But five of the eight vaccines India wants to use are currently on clinical trials, and their success cannot be predetermined.

What happens to those awaiting vaccination in the interim is an issue that’s been left dangerously unanswered.

India needs to face this crisis head on without glossing over the shortcomings. At a time of great calamity like this, the government must be visibly and genuinely at the forefront of leading the fightback.

It must review immediately its decision to open up the vaccination programme to all adults, instead focusing on fully vaccinating the elderly, the vulnerable and frontlines workers first until the supply shortage eases.

It must engage with vaccine makers globally to procure the vials for the entire population, instead of delegating it to individual states. And it must also aggressively tackle the issue of vaccine hesitancy and dubious doctrines that debunk science with a forceful hand.

With these concerted actions, India has the chance to turn this sliver of hope into a great window of opportunity against the pandemic.