- Vaccination Task force
- Taking Lessons
- Way Ahead
Plan for COVID-19 Vaccine Delivery
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The scientists around the globe are striving hard for the vaccine development of the deadly Coronavirus. However, the experts say that we are 12-18 months away from an approved Covid-19 vaccine, and even longer from having one available at scale. Despite vaccine development being at this uncertain early stage, India must immediately start planning how to deliver a Covid-19 vaccine.
Vaccination Task Force:
- India has formed a high level task force to research on coronavirus and develop a vaccine.
- The task force will also coordinate with the international community on the vaccine development process for coronavirus.
- The Department of Biotechnology (DBT) is the central coordinating authority.
- Its main focus will be to set up a process for vaccine development and monitor the progress of research works and also facilitate the process.
- The task force consists of members from NITI Aayog, DRDO (Defence Research Development Organization), ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research).
- When a vaccine becomes available, everyone will have to run the fastest and largest mass vaccination campaign in history.
- India will have to vaccinate about a billion people to reach the level believed to confer herd immunity for Covid-19.
- Each day of the virus-driven uncertainty cripples the economy and imposes immense human costs.
- India should do everything we can to save a few critical days, weeks or months.
- The task force on coronavirus vaccine development, drug discovery, diagnosis, and testing exists but its focus is diffuse.
- Even in the area of vaccines, the group’s focus is primarily vaccine development, not the delivery.
- Immunising a billion people in a country will be a huge operational challenge.
- To be successful, we need a powerful group to plan for vaccine delivery now.
India can draw lessons from two large, successful campaign-style exercises.
- Every five years, India holds the world’s largest general election, involving up to 900 million voters.
- Electoral rules state there must be a polling place within two kilometres of every habitation.
- India employs 11 million election workers to make sure every eligible Indian can vote.
- Every vote is cast electronically via more than 1.7 million machines.
- Despite these formidable challenges, India successfully conducts elections, widely considered free and fair.
- This model can be incorporated for effective delivery of vaccines to the citizens.
2. Polio campaign:
- The polio eradication campaign is the second example.
- As recently as 2009, India had over 60% of all global polio cases.
- With an annual birth cohort of 27 million children, high population density, poor sanitation, inaccessible regions, high population mobility and a high disease burden, the obstacles to achieving zero-polio status seemed insurmountable.
- Nevertheless, India has not had a single case of the wild poliovirus since 2011, and it was officially declared polio-free in 2014.
- The victory was achieved through government ownership, partnerships with private and social sectors, innovations in programme delivery, technical advances, and massive social mobilisation.
- This experience can prove worthy for vaccine delivery to the huge population.
There is a lot for a Vaccination Task Force (VTF) to productively focus its efforts on right now.
1. Outline a plan:
- VTF can determine plausible ranges and identify the most likely options by outlining a plan for vaccine delivery.
- These can be used to draw up a set of scenarios for detailed planning.
- The VTF can then monitor how vaccine development is progressing.
- As more information becomes available, the ranges on the key uncertain variables can be narrowed and the priority order and details of plans can be revised.
2. Devise Strategies:
- VTF can practice through “war games” will allow decision-makers to rapidly and correctly react to changing circumstances.
- An example: How to react to the possible tragedy of a small cluster of deaths in one state, most likely due to vaccine-related side-effects?
- Such “war games” are standard practice for militaries, and are increasingly used by corporates to allow decision-makers to improve their responses.
3. Setting the priorities:
- No matter how fast production can be ramped up, there will be initial periods when only a limited supply of vaccine will be available, and demand will exceed supply.
- The VTF can draw up allocation and prioritisation rules.
- For example, first high-risk populations such as health workers; then, vulnerable populations such as the elderly; thereafter, individuals likely to be potential “super-spreaders”; and finally, the general public.
4. Focus on positives:
- The VTF can also represent India in global agreements for an equitable allocation of vaccines and agree to rules for the timing and allocations of supply within India versus for export to other countries.
- India excels in one critical dimension — vaccine manufacturing.
- India alone supplies 60% of the vaccine doses purchased by the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) each year.
- Even if Indian manufacturers are part of global agreements to ensure equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines for every country, India can be assured of a strong negotiating position, as it brings critical production capacity to the table.
- The VTF can work collaboratively with local manufacturers to understand how many doses can be manufactured in what time-frames, provide the necessary support to increase the number, and establish agreements to purchase a minimum number of doses at an agreed price.
5. Building Trust:
- A coherent, clear, and resonant communication will be a critical pillar for building trust among stakeholders and the general public.
- It will ensure public receptivity and cooperation for a vaccination campaign.
Immunising a billion people in a country as diverse as India will be a staggering operational challenge for the country. But as it is said that ‘An Early bird catches the worm’.So, If planning for vaccine delivery starts now, India will have a well-thought-through playbook to execute from when a vaccine is ready.