Be prepared: vaccine diplomacy at Quad meet
The inaugural meeting of Quad has led to the inception of a welcome initiative on the Covid-19 vaccine, with the four member countries deciding to pool in their individual capacities to augment the delivery of the much-needed medications. The strategy to remove bottlenecks assumes significance in the light of the growing spike in coronavirus cases in India that has resulted in legitimate speculation of a possible second wave. India added over 20,000 new cases of infection on three consecutive days last week, confirming fears of the burden of cases getting heavier since February. It is being reported that several states and Union territories have experienced a surge, albeit disproportionately, with Maharashtra, once again, leading the way, followed by Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, Delhi and Haryana. A number of causes are being attributed to these worrying signs. India’s testing rate has fallen to 40 per cent from its peak capacities; it needs to be raised significantly to prevent the contagion from overwhelming spatial congregations, communities and, eventually, the health system. Public functions, accompanied by laxity in adhering to precautionary measures among participants, may be responsible for the resurrection of the virus in some parts of the country. The apathy towards precaution must be addressed on a war footing. India’s vaccination programme has gathered pace with nearly 30 million doses being administered; yet, the number of people inoculated remains a meagre percentage of the total population. There is a clear need for the vaccination programme to adopt a flexible approach so that wider segments of Indians, especially the young, mobile groups, receive special attention.
It has also been reported that the vaccination programme in urban clusters has received a tepid response from the poor. A discernible class division seems to be at work. It is possible that the cost of a jab in private facilities eludes a large number of Indians in penury but what is worrying is that the concentration of the poor in government hospitals, where vaccines are being administered for free, remains equally disheartening. Lack of awareness, prejudiced ideas about vaccines or, simply, indifference may be the principal factors behind this challenge. India must fall back on the wealth of experience and knowledge it has gathered in the course of other mass vaccination programmes to find a way around these obstacles.