The largest vaccination drive has been initiated in India, with free COVID vaccine being administered across the nation only to “prioritised beneficiaries” which includes three crore healthcare and frontline workers. Even though states like Delhi, West Bengal, Bihar and Kerala have assured free vaccines for everyone, there is no commitment from the central government to ensure that the benefit of vaccination is universal for all Indians. In a country like India, the Centre should ensure that there is a right to free vaccine for all Indians. India has a population of 136 crore people and the highest number of Covid-affected people after the United States, and hence a campaign to inoculate the entire population is critical to the success of humanity’s fight against the pandemic.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi takes justifiable pride in the fact that both the vaccines are made in India and underlines the role of Indian scientists in making it happen. But the truth is that one of the two vaccines, Covaxin, which is developed jointly by the Indian Council of Medical Research and Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech International Limited, and manufactured by the latter, has been in a clinical trial mode. Those people who were given the Covaxin jab was made to sign a consent form, which says that they are participating in a trial. At Saturday’s rate of 1.9 lakh doses administered, it takes nearly three months to extinguish the current booking order. The target of 5,000 vaccination sites with 100 people inoculated daily will scale this to 5 lakh daily shots. Delhi has ambitions of inoculating 1 lakh people daily. Given India’s massive population of 130 crores, Centre, states and vaccine companies face an unenviable task taking the country to herd immunity. Delivering the vaccines free and fast will have a greater effect than a financial stimulus at this moment. The psychological effect of rapid mass vaccination could prompt citizens to resume travel, eat and shop outdoors more, send children to school and restart activities that revive the service sector, which accounts for 54 per cent of India’s GDP.
Even as India is tentative in declaring free COVID vaccines for all, countries such as the United States, France, Japan, Russia, Norway and Bahrain have pledged free vaccines for all their citizens.
A recent survey by the Gaon Connection found that the biggest worry in rural India was whether the vaccine would be available for free and that 36 per cent of the interviewed respondents exhibited an unwillingness to pay for the vaccine. “Vaccine hesitancy” has been ranked by the WHO in 2019 as one of the top ten threats to global health. To tackle this hesitancy, one of the greatest barriers — the affordability of the vaccination — must be dispelled to secure the right to health of its citizens.