Needed in India now: A boost for boosters

Roughly a year and a half after India kicked off the world’s largest Covid-19 vaccination drive, Union health minister Mansukh Mandaviya announced this week that the country had managed to double-vaccinate 845 million people, roughly 90% of its adult population. This is a milestone and shows that despite the initial hiccups of availability, the Centre and states, with the health care community and civil society, came together to ensure that a majority of the country is shielded against the virus. The success of the vaccination drive, however, has not carried over to the so-called precaution dose. It has been three months since India allowed all adults to take a booster jab, but of every five people eligible, only one has turned up (18.8% of 251 million who are eligible). Scientists have reiterated that timely vaccination is the most effective shield against newer variants of Sars-CoV-2. A third dose remains crucial because studies have shown that immunity from two doses begins waning after four-to-six months.

It is important to remember that at the beginning of the inoculation drive in January 2021, concerns were raised about hesitation, access, affordability, and reach. Yet, with administrative flexibility, last-mile push, and the work by grassroots workers such as anganwadi volunteers, coverage was extended and even a temporary loss of steam was not allowed to become a problem. As the relatively mild impact of Omicron showed, keeping inoculation levels high should be a national health priority. The government must expend the political capital it gained by the successful vaccination drive to help shore up booster coverage. The coverage of 90% should be a moment of celebration, introspection, and action.

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