Enthusiasm for vaccination must be sustained enough for people to turn up for both shots.
Three days into the second phase of the vaccination drive, there appears to be palpable enthusiasm among senior citizens, the focus of the exercise. About 8.4 lakh beneficiaries above 60 have been vaccinated so far as have 1.04 lakh over 45 with co-morbidities. By comparison, when the first phase began on January 16 for health-care workers — data as on January 18 showed that 3.8 lakh beneficiaries were inoculated. Thus, the uptake in the initial days of the second phase seems marginally better. The early days of vaccinations are outliers to the average experience. Well-publicised shots of the Prime Minister, Chief Ministers, Health Ministers and other prominent public Ministers are not always indicative of the overall public confidence in the vaccines. Similarly, reports of technical glitches in registration and the inability to register do not reflect the fact that these aspects tend to smoothen out over time and people figure out what is optimal for them. The figures from the Health Ministry suggest that so far about 12.5 million health-care and frontline workers have been vaccinated with a single shot, still quite a distance from the 30 million target announced by the government earlier this year. About a third of the health-care workers have turned up for the second shot (prescribed to be administered within four to six weeks of the first); however, of the 57.62 lakh frontline workers inoculated since February 2 (when the drive commenced for them) only 3,277 have turned up for their second dose (the slots for which opened earlier this week). Unless these numbers pick in the next few days, vaccination hesitancy will need to be addressed as a serious problem.
Doctors and nurses, who comprise health-care workers, are medically sophisticated. They are familiar with the mechanics of dosages, immunity, and are not representative of the vast majority of India where there is confusion, misinformation and inadequate knowledge about vaccination. In these respects, the frontline workers are more similar to the 250 million-plus seniors and those above 45 than health-care workers. Therefore, the Centre must work magnitudes harder to ensure that the benefits of vaccination are communicated more broadly in the country. The other challenge is that senior citizens must mediate a technological tool — the CoWIN website — to access vaccines. The state has, thoughtfully, enabled provisions whereby medical personnel will actively reach out to groups of elderly. It is also important that the early enthusiasm must be sustained enough for people to turn up for both shots. Emerging evidence suggests that it is the second shot that plays a more important role in long-lasting protection. This month is already seeing a national uptick in fresh infections with the chances of a possible second wave on the horizon. A successful vaccination drive is critical to being prepared for it.