Why Free 75 Day Booster Drive in India is a smart move and how can it be made smarter
To facilitate and improve the ongoing mass vaccination campaign against Covid-19, the government has made booster doses free for citizens over the age of 18 for 75 days, starting July 15. The announcement came amid rising Covid-19 cases across India. .
The decision is not only bold, but also smart. Indeed, a staggering 92% of Indians, who are currently eligible for a third dose, have yet to take their vaccines and are now late recipients. This decision has many objectives: to increase affordability, to improve accessibility to more groups and to strengthen citizens’ trust in government authorities. However, insufficient awareness and implementation can hamper the ultimate goal of the decision.
On the first day of the 75-day campaign, 13.2 lakh booster doses were given to 18-60 year olds, a 16-fold jump from the pace so far. The average precautionary dose rate was 81,000 a day in the country since April 10.
A smart move through the center
Since the start of the vaccination campaign, the Union government has taken a free market approach. Private hospitals were able to source vaccines directly from manufacturers and price them. There was no price cap. The extremely high prices charged by hospitals made it almost impossible for the general public to afford them.
At the same time, people could not find vaccine slots in government health facilities. This has disadvantaged many poor and vulnerable groups. Lack of affordability was one of the main reasons for the stagnation of inoculation among the general public. The prolonged lockdown has led to severe economic and financial hardship. People have been pushed into poverty and therefore spending on vaccinations has never been the first choice. So far, less than 5% of the total population have taken their third injection. The recent decision to make boosters free for everyone over 18 may actually act as an intrinsic motivation for people to get their precautionary doses quickly and without delay.
It was recently reported that hundreds of millions of Covid-19 vaccines in India (Covishield and Covaxin) will expire by September. As vaccine waste becomes a major concern, it is only hoped that the waste can be stopped when we make vaccines more accessible to everyone.
How can we make it smarter?
Vaccination for All is one of the most important tools in our fight against this pandemic. We must increase vaccination in our population to reduce the future burden of Covid-19 disease. Improving accessibility to vaccines has been a major challenge facing the country. We can overcome the challenge by opening more centers across the country. Giving away all doses of vaccines for free will act as a huge boost for people to get vaccinated.
Scientifically deciding the gap between vaccines instead of opting for longer durations will help protect large populations. A sustained campaign to encourage people to take more vaccines can be achieved through appropriate communication measures. Ongoing efforts are needed to raise awareness of price changes or durations between doses.
Why should all vaccines be free?
Vaccinations are one of the most cost-effective public health interventions. Benefits range from infection protection to harm reduction. By preventing infections and reducing the severity of illness, it also prevents costs associated with illness. This includes not only short-term costs such as the cost of hospitalization or sick leave, but also financial burden and long-term health.
Vaccines also avoid the need for containment and reduced economic activity. They provide what we call a “positive externality”. This means that the benefits of taking the vaccine are also passed on from the person taking the vaccine to others. Thus, if the majority of people in a geographic area are immune, the chances of unvaccinated people contracting the infections decline exponentially.
Making vaccines free for all is a smart strategy, but it shouldn’t be followed just for the Covid-19 pandemic. This is a strategy the government should follow for all future threats, including Monkeypox.
With the rise of globalization, human-animal interaction and climate change, the risk of new infections emerging and becoming a global threat has exploded. Vaccines are the bedrock of our fight against these new threats.
Harshit Kukreja is Research Analyst, The Takshashila Institution. Mahek Nankani is Deputy Program Director, The Takshashila Institution. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not represent the position of this publication.
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