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Editorial Articles

Issue no 18, 30 July - 05 August 2022

How India Scripted Covid Vaccination Success Story


India recently achieved the historic feat of administering 200 crore doses of COVID vaccines. Terming this feat as a proud moment for the country, Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare, Dr. Mansukh Mandaviya has thanked the people involved in this campaign, whose tireless efforts made it possible. Speaking with Bhupendra Singh of All India Radio for Employment News, the minister said the vast network of health workers deployed for timely vaccination of the citizens and the special thrust on research and development of indigenous vaccines were the key drivers for India's successful and fast-paced COVID vaccination campaign.

Question: India started its COVID vaccination drive on 16th January 2021. In just 18 months, more than 200 crore doses have been successfully administered to eligible citizens. What have we learnt from the experience so far?

Dr Mansukh Mandaviya: The vaccination drive traces India's steadfastness in carrying out speedy research and seamlessly executing a campaign of such a large scale. This campaign has also proved that there is no shortage of abilities and capabilities in the country's human resources. The country has had immense potential for centuries. It is just a matter of how to preserve it and bring it out. From my point of view, it was Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi who led the way by entering mission mode right from the moment when the first case of COVID was detected in the world and in India. He took no time in bringing together the scientists and officials for devising a strategy for the impending threats. The biggest challenge at that time was that no one knew about this virus and how it would behave. Another crucial question was that if the virus spread at an uncontrollable pace, how would we deal with the situation? Keeping this in mind, the Prime Minister constituted several committees. A committee of experts and scientists was formed. Research on COVID started. The Prime Minister was of the opinion that an effective vaccine was the only weapon to combat the deadly disease. But looking at history, any vaccine that was researched upon and developed anywhere in the world took almost 5-10 years to reach India. Hence, we were faced with the very troublesome question, which was, "what if the vaccine being developed elsewhere reaches India late…what will be the condition of Indians grappling with the disease?" Keeping all this in mind, the government spent a lot of money on research by trusted scientists, pharmaceutical companies and manufacturers of medical devices. As a result, indigenous vaccines were developed in the country in no time.

Question: The pace at which India administered COVID vaccines has been much faster than many developed countries. What were the factors that contributed in the speedy delivery of vaccines to the world's second largest population?

Dr Mansukh Mandaviya : It was not an easy task. We worked on three fronts simultaneously - public HOW INDIA SCRIPTED COVID VACCINATION SUCCESS STORY Continued on awareness, vaccine production, and networking. A lot of efforts went in spreading awareness among the public about the need and safety of the vaccines. Looking at the global scenario, we find that even in many developed countries, there is a sense of skepticism among the public about the safety and efficacy of COVID vaccines. Despite being much advanced, those countries are nowhere close to achieving immunization of 100% of their targeted population. Even in the most developed countries, the rate of COVID vaccination hovers around 70%. The second impor-tant step was to indigenously produce the vaccine. Third, establishing a strong network to effectively administer the vaccines to such a large population was an equally daunting task. India is a very large and diverse country. Swiftly setting up 1.5 lakh COVID vaccination centers, training 5 lakh people for vaccination and timely delivery of vaccines to the vaccination centers was a huge task. If we trace the entire vaccination drive, there were at least 11 days during which more than 1 crore doses were administered in a single day. You must be well aware that there was never a day when the drive was disrupted due to un-availability of human resources or vaccines or needles etc. This was possible because of the smooth management at all levels which in itself is a big achievement.

Question: Earlier, India had a tendency of relying on developed countries for vaccines. But when the pandemic necessitated the development of our own vaccine, the process did not take much time. What efforts were instrumental behind this success?

Dr Mansukh Mandaviya: The foremost factor that made this possible was our resolve to anyhow develop and produce a COVID vaccine of our own. For this, a COVID protection plan of Rs 920 crore was immediately sanctioned. Under this scheme, financial assistance was given to vaccine manufacturers in the country and to researchers. We also removed several administrative and regulatory speedbreakers in granting approval to research and production of vaccines. Had we followed the conventional route, the approval process itself would have taken not less than 3-4 years. But since we relaxed the norms, the research process took less than 9 months. Apart from this, a lot of emphasis was laid on spreading awareness among the public about COVID vaccination. As a result, the vaccination took place at a very rapid pace in the country. Today, India is the only country in the world to have administered the first dose of COVID vaccine to more than 98 percent of the eligible beneficiaries. Also, more than 90 percent of the beneficiaries have received the second dose. This is no small thing. 80 percent children in the age group of 12 to 15 have also been given the second dose of COVID vaccine. The door-to-door vaccination drive under the Har Ghar Dastak campaign was also a huge success. The Har Ghar Dastak campaign-phase two- is currently underway. Apart from this, under the Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav theme, a 75-day special campaign is being undertaken for administering free precautionary dose to eligible citizens at all government immunization centres. Due to these efforts, India's COVID vaccination drive is being praised all over the world.

Question: What additional efforts are being made by the government to motivate and persuade those segments of the society who still remain skeptical or lack the enthusiasm about getting immunized against COVID?

Dr Mansukh Mandaviya: The efforts made so far have been largely successful as evident from the fact that so far more than 98 percent of the eligible population in the country has received the first dose of COVID vaccine. When the spread of COVID slowed down in the country, there was less enthusiasm among the people in getting the second dose. Sensing this, we immediately launched the Har Ghar Dastak-2 campaign. During the second phase of the Har Ghar Dastak campaign, our health workers reached out to every citizen by visiting door to door and persuading them to take the second dose. As a result, the percentage of people taking second dose also crossed 90. Efforts are still on to achieve the target of 100%.

Question: Children of the age group of 12 to 18 years have been declared eligible for COVID vaccination. Is there a special modus operandi in place to ensure all children are vaccinated?

Dr Mansukh Mandaviya: It is very important for children to get vaccinated against COVID, as it will increase their immunity. Schools have opened since June. In such a situation, it is very important to protect the immune system of the children. Keeping this in mind, all children of the age group of 12 to 18 years have been brought under the ambit of vaccination. Our health workers are going from school to school and administering the vaccine doses. Special camps are also being organized for the vaccination of children. The result of this has been very encouraging. Today, 82 percent of eligible children have received the first dose of COVID vaccine. The drive for second dose is already underway.

(The interviewer is Correspondent, All India Radio, New Delhi. He can be reached at airnews.bhupendra @gmail.com)