Vaccinate On Election Mode, Says Paediatrician Sibal. Why Not, Indeed
The idea that the Election Commission should turn Injection Commission in a special purpose vehicle is brilliant.
With the extant infrastructure in place, the goal of complete vaccination of Indians is hearteningly visible.
Anupam Sibal, Chief Pediatrician, Apollo Hospitals, has come up with a brilliant idea — vaccinate on an election mode!
He was speaking in a panel discussion on TV18 English news channel a couple of days ago. He said we conduct our elections so enviously well every now and then that ergo, we should use the same machinery and infrastructure to vaccinate the entire nation on a war footing.
So far, we have vaccinated 40 crore people against Covid-19 which is not a small feat given the limitations in terms of availability of vaccine, hesitancy, logistics and sheer size and spread of the nation.
That out of the Indian population of 135 crore only 5 per cent have got both the doses of vaccination is used by critics to score a brownie point, little realising that even one dose provides close to 70 per cent immunity.
Los Angeles, which is seeing a revival of the epidemic, is trying its best to overcome vaccine hesitancy that is unique to Americans in the sense that almost 50 per cent of the nation has always been vaccine-sceptic.
Vexed, it is trying to ask people to wear masks inside homes.
Sibal should be particularly concerned, because, being a pediatrician, he knows all hell would break out should the third wave ravage the nation, particularly the infants, who cannot be left alone in isolation wards without their mothers periodically taking care of them.
When we start getting the vaccines in large quantities from the middle of this month, we should use the same election booths where voters are accustomed to casting their votes this time round for immunization.
The Election Commission (EC), which is a stickler for details lest things go haywire, can be trusted upon to work in tandem with the health ministry.
Unlike the entire nation going to polls simultaneously as usual, large-scale vaccine administration has got to be selective out of sheer necessity. Choose a town or a city on a single day. The unusual visitor to the polling booth would be infants and children for whom hopefully vaccines are made available in large quantities.
That the indigenous Covaxin would suit them is heartening news. Ferrying vaccines in cold storage, of course, would be a more challenging job than carrying ink and EVMs.
While voting, physical distancing though desirable is not a necessary condition but while administering vaccines it is.
EC has had experience with enforcing wearing of masks and maintaining distances in the pandemic era elections in states. EC, which frowns on corrupt practices, must condone a limited blandishment — chocolate and biscuits for infants and children when they accompany their parents for vaccination.
If some states in the US could tempt the vaccine-hesitant with a beer, why not in India with say a T-shirt proclaiming proudly that the wearer endorses vaccination.
There was something terribly intrusive about compulsory sterilization by Sanjay Gandhi during the infamous emergency in 1975-77, but there would be nothing objectionable even if an element of force were introduced in the vaccination drive, given the importance of herd immunity and the imminent threat of spread if the obstinate hesitant is left severely alone.
But let us start dangling the carrot before wielding the stick.
EC is armed with the voter list for each constituency. That would be a good starting point. The local municipal authorities should work in tandem to bring the hitherto unvaccinated people along with their Aadhaar cards to the voting-turned-vaccination booths.
The task for the booth in charges and staff of course would be different. CoWin website whose centerpiece is the mobile number must be geared up and made more robust.
While minutiae would differ, the sum and substance of Dr Sibal’s brainwave is working on a mission mode, which translates to election mode in our country despite a few hiccups punctuating our elections.
Vaccination is the ultimate guarantee against recurrent waves. Masking is an interim measure.
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