Thanks to the early and extended lockdown declared by our proactive government, India has performed extremely well during this pandemic, compared to affluent Western countries. If Covid mortality rate is the yardstick to judge a country’s performance, I have no doubt that we will win the first prize.
Unfortunately, the battle against Covid is not over yet. There are indications of another wave hitting us shortly. Irrespective of the origin of the new Covid strains, we certainly know that it is more contagious but may not be more lethal. A highly contagious Covid variant can quickly overrun our country which is opening up, and overwhelm the healthcare system already tormented by the virus. This must be stopped at any cost.
Today, we stand at the crossroads. We can choose to blindly walk the path taken by the West and go for a slow and measured vaccination drive. Or we can use our strength as one of the most innovative nations on earth and vaccinate half the country’s population in one month’s time.
Developed countries can absorb the harm to their economy with a prolonged vaccine rollout; we cannot. Western healthcare infrastructure can manage thousands of Covid patients for years on end; ours cannot. That’s why we need a surgical strike against this insufferable virus.
How to fund vaccinating 500 million Indians?
Government should continue to vaccinate vulnerable population free of cost. To support the government initiative, vaccine manufacturers should sell the vaccine at Rs 300 per person and hospitals should charge just Rs 100. At Rs 400 this will be the cheapest vaccination programme anywhere in the world. Government infrastructure should take care of the logistics of supply to the hospitals.
We have no doubt about our vaccine manufacturer’s ability to produce 500 million vaccines in a very short period of time. They are already sitting on a huge stock of vaccine and if purchase is assured they will be able to expedite production. The government should continue vaccinating poor and vulnerable population, while the rest of the country should be given access to the vaccines at a throwaway price quickly.
Many large and small employers are willing to pay for their employees’ vaccination as an extension of CSR. Millions of middle class families will be willing to vaccinate themselves and their support staff for Rs 400. I have no doubt that millions of Indians will come forward to pay for the vaccination through charitable organisations.
Our country has a few lakh hospitals, clinics, nursing homes and medical colleges that have the capacity to vaccinate half the country in one month. Breaking down numbers, we’ll need 34,722 nurses working 8 hours per day to vaccinate 500 million people in 30 days, assuming each injection takes 1 minute. By this calculation, large hospitals can vaccinate 24,000 patients with 50 nurses deputed, in an 8-hour shift. This can be done without disturbing their daily routine. Even if we accomplish half this number in one month, we will win the battle.
In order to succeed, we will have to apply India’s legendary spirit of innovation. Vaccination will have to happen in an open air space near hospitals. The hospital will have to design the vaccination centre like an assembly line. People should book the appointment in advance, show up 15 minutes before the appointment to avoid overcrowding. There should be a hundred plastic chairs for patients to sit. One nurse will be supported by four assistants who are trained to load injection into the syringe. Another assistant should be prepared with gloves and sterile spirit swab. The nurses’ only job is to wear fresh gloves and inject and move to the next patient and on and on till 100 chairs have been covered. After the injection, people should wait nearby for half an hour. Only documentation to be done is the entry of Aadhaar number.
Doctors and hospital management understand that the logistical cost of vaccinating half a billion people will not be possible by charging just Rs 100 per person. Actual cost will be around Rs 200. However, when I had a discussion with top management of large hospital groups and owners of small nursing homes, all of them came forward to offer their service to the nation facing the crisis by accepting just Rs 100 per person, capping the total cost of vaccinating at Rs 400 per person.
Covid is not going to disappear for quite some time. Vaccination against Covid will be a long-term affair. Once 500 million Indians receive two doses of vaccine, there’s plenty of time for market forces to decide on the pricing.
People I’ve spoken to think vaccinating half a billion people will not be possible. Those same people would have thought providing health insurance to half a billion people wasn’t possible. The government, led by our able Prime Minister, believes in the art of the possible. Our doctors, nurses, technicians and healthcare workers did a phenomenal job saving millions of precious lives. They are tired and want to get back to their normal lives. We simply can’t afford to go through another Covid peak and lockdown. If we act fast, we will prove to the world that health doesn’t depend on the wealth of the nation.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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