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As India Crosses 1 Billion Covid Jabs, Overcoming Rural-Urban Divide is the Real Success Story

By: Dr H. Sudarshan Ballal

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Last Updated: October 21, 2021, 11:08 IST

With close to 1.4 billion people, India is the second to exceed a billion cumulative doses after the most populous country China did so in June. (Image for representation: Reuters/File)

With close to 1.4 billion people, India is the second to exceed a billion cumulative doses after the most populous country China did so in June. (Image for representation: Reuters/File)

Vaccination is one of the most powerful tools in our arsenal to not only check the spread of Covid-19 but also reduce morbidity and mortality of this viral infection.

The coronavirus pandemic is unlike anything we have witnessed in the last hundred years and the second wave was particularly devastating. Just as we start breathing easy, literally and figuratively, there is a fear of the third wave hitting us and disrupting our lives again.

It is clear that we will have to live with COVID-19 for quite some time and the only effective way to do it is through strict implementation of COVID-appropriate behaviour of masking, distancing, hand washing, avoiding large crowds, and mass vaccination of all eligible citizens at the earliest.

Fortunately, there were some very important lessons learnt from the second wave, which have shielded us from a potential third wave so far.

One of the most successful stories in our war against COVID-19 has been the advent of vaccination against the virus and the universal availability of the vaccine. There were many steps that we had to take urgently to make COVID vaccination a success, which were:

1. Vaccine availability at subsidized rates

2. Fighting vaccine hesitancy

3. Fixing the inequitable distribution of vaccines

4. Pushing rural vaccination drive

Fortunately, for us, all this has happened in quick succession and we have on many days vaccinated more than 1 crore people a day and averaged about 25 crore vaccinations in September, which is a phenomenal success story.

Vaccination is one of the most powerful tools in our arsenal to not only check the spread of COVID-19 but also reduce the morbidity and mortality of this viral infection.

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Though the vaccination process started in the right earnest in mid-January, we did have some initial hiccups. However, we overcame them rapidly and are now on the right track.

We have reached the landmark figure of administering 100 crore or 1 billion vaccine doses, which is more than the collective population of UK, US, Brazil and Russia. India and China are the only countries to reach this figure. Kudos to the government on achieving this herculean task; a majority of citizens have been able to avail of free vaccine doses.

Mass vaccination, diligent surveillance in the form of aggressive testing and genomic analysis of the virus to detect any mutation to prevent a repeat of the catastrophic events that happened with the spread of the deadly Delta variant during the second wave, and COVID-appropriate behaviour are the only measures that can shield us from another round of devastation.

Almost 70 per cent of the Indian population now has COVID antibodies, either due to natural exposure or due to vaccination. As of now, 100 crore vaccine doses have been administered to about 70 crore people. More than 28 crore people are fully vaccinated to date. In other words, nearly 74 per cent or close to three-fourths of the adult population in India have received at least one dose, while 30 per cent have got both doses. These are very important factors, which will mitigate the effects of the third wave if and when it hits us.

Equitable Distribution of the Vaccine

One of the main concerns during the vaccination programme was the possible inequitable distribution of vaccine, especially to the rural areas, and overcoming the urban-rural divide.

Most of the large urban centers, including the metropolitan cities, have registered fairly good vaccine coverage. The requirement to get vaccinated in order to attend work or to travel or even shop coupled with relatively lower vaccine hesitancy could have played a role in a large number of people getting the shot. It is wonderful news that rural areas too, in general, are not lagging behind in vaccination. In fact, data show that many districts, on an average, have provided over 80 per cent of their population with at least one vaccine dose; the coverage of the second dose is about 30 per cent. Fortunately, there does not seem to be a sharp urban-rural divide in terms of vaccination coverage.

ALSO READ | India’s Billion Breakthrough: Six People Who Steered the World’s Largest Vaccination Drive

The Road Ahead

Despite the phenomenal work in speeding up vaccination in the last few months, there is still a steep climb ahead. India is aiming to fully vaccinate its entire adult population by the end of this year. That means an additional 90 crore doses have to be administered between now and December 31, which certainly is an uphill task. We need to consistently administer an average of 1.25 crore vaccines per day for the next two-and-a-half months to achieve this. We certainly cannot rest on our laurels and slow down the pace of vaccination till this happens.

After we achieve full vaccination of adults, the only section left behind will be children and hopefully with the expert committee giving emergency approval for Covaxin for children aged 2-18 years, this lacuna too will be taken care of, and we will be on the path towards universal vaccination. This, as the COVID pandemic is becoming endemic, unless the virus rapidly mutates to a more deadly form.

Though the overall situation seems optimistic, it is still necessary for us to not let our guard down and it is essential to follow COVID-appropriate behaviour of masking, distancing, hand washing and avoiding large crowds till we are absolutely sure we have conquered the COVID-19 virus.

All in all, we are on the road to recovery and we should not take any retrograde step that can push us back to the miserable days faced during the second wave of COVID-19.

Dr Sudarshan Ballal is Chairman, Manipal Hospitals. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the stand of this publication.

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first published:October 21, 2021, 10:25 IST
last updated:October 21, 2021, 11:08 IST
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