As the hopeful news of an effective vaccine comes in, those in India, common people like you and me, feel that by the time it reaches us, it might well be mid-2021.
Apart from the challenges of the cold-storage which the Pfizer vaccine elaborated, the big question in everyone’s mind is how will India distribute? Are we logistically, capable enough?
The answer is a vehement “YES!” We are more than capable but what the Govt needs to show is the will to get this right. Given the fact that it is impacting economic growth and putting the fiscal deficit under tremendous strain, we say that having the requisite will, will not be a problem.
And why we think India is capable of distribution? We are a nation which conducts the largest election in the world, in terms of sheer number of people voting. In 2019, more than 900 million or 90 crore eligible voters went to the polls. How did we do that? Booths in each and every area, be it as small or as remote. We hold the distinction of having the world’s highest polling both at 15,256 feet in Tashigang in Himachal or a polling booth deep, 22 miles inside the Gir forest so that one lone voter can cast his vote. There are stories of election officers braving crocodile swamps for nine voters in remote parts of Andaman and Nicobar or how officers trek 300 miles for four days across winding mountain roads and river valleys for one single voter in Malogam, a remote hamlet in forested mountains in Arunachal Pradesh, close to the border with China.
To put this into perspective, to ensure that 900 million people vote, the Election Commission in 2019, appointed 11 million Govt employees and security personnel to temporarily become election officials and help smoothly help the world’s largest democracy vote.
So, when it comes to getting the votes, we overcome all logistical challenge; the same process can be utilized for vaccinating the entire country within a span of a few months.
Yes, there is the challenge of ramping up production but that can be done too – we emerged as a net exporter of masks within a few months into the pandemic. Even the ventilators – presently there are 20 domestic manufacturers from a scenario last year when there weren’t even a handful. If pushed, we can do it on a war footing.
What about the biggest challenge of cold storage? India has the requisite infrastructure to handle vaccines which require cold storage of -25 degrees but -70 degrees would be a huge challenge. On the other hand, Pawanexh Kohli, former CEO and chief advisor, National Centre for Cold Chain Development (NCCD), said the problem could be effectively tackled through extensive use of dry ice. “Dry ice in a designated box can retain temperatures at -70 degrees for 24-48 hours,” he said.
The fact is that we need to use the vaccine like a cluster bomb, not like a sharpshooter. This idea of inoculating the frontline workers first is no good as the risk is very high of the virus mutating and making the vaccine ineffective by the time it reaches the people. Remember, within a year itself, the virus has mutated 300 times.
That’s why we need to vaccinate the entire country at one-go, like the way we do the elections. We need to work on eradicating the vaccine and if there is the will and the urgency, it can be done!