A Billion Vaccinated: Why We Must Be Proud Of This Significant Milestone

Dr H V Hande

Oct 21, 2021, 12:12 PM | Updated 12:12 PM IST

Covid-19 vaccination drive success.   
Covid-19 vaccination drive success.   
  • India has done better than its peers and many developed countries. Notwithstanding negative campaigns, the country has set an example for the world and we should be proud of this achievement.
  • Today (21 October) is a historic day for India and our healthcare sector. Every Indian should be proud of this achievement. We have vaccinated a billion people against Covid-19. We have to thank our scientists, doctors, healthcare workers, and millions of those who made this programme a success both from the state and central government. When I spoke about this achievement to a few of my doctor friends in the US, they were astounded and shook their heads in disbelief.

    One of the reasons for this success is because we have affected a paradigm shift in governance from 2014 and a mindset change that we have brought about, whether it be in the scope of the schemes, the scale of the delivery, or in the nature of the schemes themselves.

    India started planning for the vaccination drive right in May 2020 when no vaccine was even close to approval anywhere in the world. As the Prime Minister said, “India had decided as early as then, that we did not want this vaccination drive to be run in the old way where it could take decades to vaccinate people. We wanted to run this in a fast, efficient, discretion-free and timebound manner”.

    India used digital technology to reach everyone. Vaccines reached people and not the other way round. This had never happened in India. And how did it reach the people? It was up to them — where they wanted to go and when. It was the same country where you could not buy ration beyond the designated shop in your own locality. Now, a person could have his/her first dose in Bhopal and the second dose wherever he or she was, when the second dose was due.

    Vaccinating such huge numbers in such a large country is not easy. The logistics of it, is by itself, mind boggling. To begin with, vaccines had to be manufactured in sufficient quantities; proper temperature control of vaccines had to be maintained; cold-chain infrastructure across the length and breadth of the country had to be ensured; timely deliveries from the manufacturing plant to the remotest vaccinating centre, supply of needles and syringes, training of vaccinators and preparing for adverse reactions, from quick registration to certificate generation to reminder for next appointment — all these were done seamlessly.

    Just imagine the things which went on behind the scenes of such a large initiative. Some states were administering the vaccines more quickly than others. Their stocks had to be replenished more quickly than others. Some districts would vaccinate more quickly than others, and their stock had to replenished more quickly, and this had to be done till the PHC and the last person standing. Just imagine how critical and important this last mile delivery was, when you also understand that we had to do our best not to waste doses.

    If one vial of either vaccine was opened, 10 doses had to be given within four hours. Otherwise, one had to throw away the vial. In April of this year, some states wanted to procure the vaccines by themselves directly from the manufacturers. But soon they threw their hands up in the air; consequently, on 7 June, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that the Centre would take over the vaccination programme from the states and that the changed vaccination policy would be implemented, in the next two weeks.

    Many people even doubted if a large noisy democracy such as ours could implement this vaccination drive, saying that only an authoritarian government could vaccinate such large numbers in such a short time. They even questioned if a democracy such as ours, could control the pandemic. India proved all of them wrong.

    There was no dearth of people trying to politicise the vaccination drive and also a few tried knowingly to create panic, doubt and anxiety. Despite this, we have crossed a billion doses. What a day! The Prime Minister made it a people’s movement. Look at the conflicting pulls of different people in different directions in several advanced countries.

    As the Prime Minister said, “we need to look at the entire logistics, planning and progress to understand the success of the vaccine drive. It is a huge effort with so many people mobilised across the country. I hope the media will take out time to highlight the efforts of our people in making the world’s largest vaccination drive a stunning success. We made sure that technology formed the backbone of the vaccination process. In the last seven years, we have leveraged technology as a means to save the poor from injustice. Our experience shows that it is the poor who get the maximum benefit of technology. Thanks to technology, the poor do not have to pay a bribe or stay behind in the queue to avail of services they rightfully deserve. They have equal rights as anyone else. Imagine a poor migrant who is now empowered to take his second dose of the same vaccine in the city he works in, even though he took the first dose in his village. Technology ensures that he gets the right vaccine at the right time and seamlessly”.

    People don’t realise that India, historically has never received any vaccine after an outbreak of a viral disease so quickly after the vaccine was discovered, as the table below shows.

    In fact, I, as health minister of Tamil Nadu had received the first doses of oral polio vaccine , thanks to the collaboration of the M G Ramachandran government with the Rotary Club of Madras decades after it was available in the West. This time around, we were able to use indigenously manufactured vaccines with lightning speed after the outbreak of the pandemic.

    One can imagine the cost to the country, if we had been dependent on a foreign manufacturer and had to import a billion doses of a vaccine, with each dose costing about $50 to $100. Then, you will realise how many billions of dollars has been saved in foreign exchange. Thanks to our scientists and manufacturers, encouraged by our Prime Minister who realised, much before many world leaders, that vaccination was the only way out of the pandemic and had prepared for it early.

    As Indians, we have not got over the fact, that some, even in the know of things, need Western authentication to feel proud of something that we have achieved. I consider this as a colonial hangover. Here is an achievement that should make us proud as Indians, whatever hew of ideology that we belong to. This is a new India, taking its rightful place in the comity of nations.

    We managed to save the lives of a large number of people during the pandemic. We also cannot forget those we have lost. For their families, it would be an irreparable loss. When we compare India’s situation in the world, we have done better than many developed countries.

    However, we have in our midst vested interests whose only aim is to tarnish India’s name. Covid-19 was a global scourge with all countries equally affected. In this scenario, India has done better than its peers and many developed countries; notwithstanding such negative campaigns, India has set an example for the world and we should be proud.

    With more vaccines indigenously manufactured and given emergency clearance, we will see India helping the world with its vaccination programme and we will truly become the pharmacy of the world.

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