“At this stage in India, when ‘R0’ has come down to below one in all states then the epidemic in India is self-limiting in that sense…so, if it is self-limiting, then should we be financing it (Covid-19 vaccine)?” Indu Bhushan, CEO of Ayushman Bharat scheme, said at a webinar on Tuesday.
R0, or ‘R naught’, is the average number of people who contracts a contagious disease from one infected person.
Speaking about who should get vaccinated on priority at the webinar, ‘The Challenge of Vaccinating a Billion Indians: How to meet it?’ organised by the National Council for Applied Economic Research (NCAER), Bhushan divided the population into three main groups – those likely to be infected, those likely to be impacted, and those likely to spread the infection.
While the government is focusing on the first two groups, Bhushan raised questions on vaccination of the third group as well as those who can afford to pay for it.
Renu Swarup, secretary of the biotechnology department, said, “There has been no compromise on any step that’s required to ensure the safety, the efficacy, the immunogenicity response that this vaccine will bring in.”
She said the reason behind the speed with which multiple vaccine candidates have been developed within a year’s time was global collaboration and building upon the existing framework for vaccine development.
States ready for rollout
State capacity for vaccination was not in doubt as a population the size of Madhya Pradesh could be vaccinated against Covid-19 in a matter of six months, according Mohammed Suleman, additional chief secretary, directorate of health services, Madhya Pradesh.
“As I look at Madhya Pradesh, I’m fairly confident that even if I have to cover 100% of the population for vaccination, I can do it in six months’ time, flat,” Suleman said.
Junaid Ahmad, World Bank country director for India, said there should be a more equitable distribution of the vaccine for the “sequel”, referring to the mutated strain of the virus. “When the sequel comes, and there will be a sequel, we must not be in a position where the north is the one that is getting the vaccines first and the south is having to wait,” he said at the virtual conference.