India held massive vaccination drive successfully despite population, diversity: Report

Union Health minister Mansukh Mandaviya has released two reports from the Institute for Competitiveness (the Indian chapter of a global network), documenting India’s Covid-19 vaccine development and vaccine administration journey. The report focused on how the massive adult vaccination drive was made successful with the help of a coordination team at central, state, and district levels, an online portal that could help in vaccine management as well as registration of beneficiaries, and effective communication that led to very little vaccine hesitancy.

The minister said, “I am happy to receive the report. This will have the exact facts and figures of India’s vaccination drive. I will comment on it once I have read the report.”

In a country with a huge population and diversity, the challenge of the vaccination drive was to scale up and address vaccine hesitancy, said Dr Amit Kapoor, honorary chairperson of the Institute of Competitiveness-India.

“Communication was very important. The message on the threat to life and the benefit of vaccination was clearly stated. Even in a country like the United States, there was a lot of vaccine hesitancy. In India, there were pockets of hesitancy, which is expected, but most have received it,” he said.

When asked about why the same communication machinery failed to ensure masking, he said, “It is a great question and should be explored.”

The report on India’s vaccine development effort focused on two “strategic choices” made by the government — the Rs 100 crore support from the PM CARES fund for the development of an indigenous vaccine and then allowing collaboration of Indian pharmaceutical companies with global candidates for conducting clinical trials in the country. Of the two vaccines that account for the most number of doses in India, Covaxin was indigenously developed by Bharat Biotech and Covishield was a partnership between Oxford/Astrazeneca with Serum Institute of India.

The report on India’s vaccination drive appreciated the hybrid training approach adopted for skilling the healthcare workers who would be key to the massive drive, the CoWIN platform for registration of beneficiaries parallel to disseminating Covid-19 vaccines on a real-time basis. And, a comprehensive communication strategy where the National Media Rapid Response Cell sent real-time alerts to district collectors to tackle fake news in their areas; engagement of celebrities, local leaders, faith leaders and other influencers; communication through local bodies such as gram sabha, school management committees and NGOs; and information disseminated to the media.

Dr Mark Esposito from Harvard University stated that India, despite having such diversity, not only addressed the national crisis but also generated the blueprint for the world to innovatively use technology to deal with the future public health crisis. “The adoption of mobile apps like Co-WIN and Aarogya Setu drove the innovation environment in the country. It offered credible promise by increasing productivity and saving time for the beneficiaries. It has also eliminated the uncertainty for the citizens of not getting vaccinated,” he said.

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