New Delhi: Four months after precaution doses of the Covid vaccine were opened to all adults, and a few weeks after the minimum gap between the second and third doses was reduced to 6 months from 9, the low uptake of the third shot is causing furrowed brows in the Union government.
Government officials say about 69 crore people in the country are currently eligible for the third dose of the vaccine. Of these, they add, just about 7.58 crore people (approx. 11 per cent) have taken the third dose, for which only adults are eligible so far.
All Indian adults became eligible for the third dose in April this year, provided they had completed 9 months since the second dose. This gap was reduced to 6 months earlier this month.
Government officials blame the low uptake not on vaccine hesitancy, but a weakening fear of Covid, which they say bodes ill as the disease is still on the prowl.
“There are approximately 4 crore people in the country who have not even taken the first dose of the vaccine. There are about 7 crore people who have not taken the second dose even after taking the first dose,” said a senior central government official on the condition of anonymity.
“So far, about 69 crore people are eligible for the precaution dose. We reduced the gap recently to six months. In a few days, 93 crore people — which is the total number of adult Indians — will become eligible. So far, about 7.58 crore precaution doses have been given,” the official added.
The official emphasised the need to “increase the precaution dose uptake because around the world many countries are seeing a surge in cases and even in India many parts are showing high positivity”.
Government officials say the uptake of precaution doses showed a marginal uptick earlier this month after the government — under the Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav campaign — announced free precaution doses for all eligible adults.
Until 14 July, a day before the rollout of the free booster initiative, just about 8 per cent eligible Indians had got the precaution dose. That number has risen to 11 per cent in the days since, the government officials said.
‘Covid fear on the wane’
India has been one of the few countries that saw more vaccine eagerness than hesitancy when Covid shots were first rolled out in January 2021, officials say.
That is why, the assessment in the highest echelons of the government is that the low uptake of precaution doses is not vaccine hesitancy but simply a sign that Indians are no longer scared of Covid. And they do not appreciate that intrepidity.
“You see, the first time when vaccines started being given to all Indians was after the second wave (before April 2021 it was only being given to old and vulnerable people such as healthcare and frontline workers). There was fear so people were eager to take the vaccine,” said a senior official.
“But now what has happened is that people have stopped fearing Covid. We need to increase the uptake of the vaccine or else things can go bad again.”
Another official blamed “complacency” for the low precaution dose uptake. “We have become complacent. We are leading a relatively comfortable life now and people seem to have understood that nothing will happen,” the official said.
“We need to appreciate that the disease is still on the prowl. That is why the need for specific targeted messaging, especially in areas with high positivity,” he added.
In the week ending 25 July, 181 districts in India reported a test positivity rate of over 10 per cent — which means 10 per cent of all tests taken returned a positive diagnosis. The highest number (26 per cent) was recorded in Assam, followed by 16 per cent in West Bengal and 13 per cent in Arunachal Pradesh.
(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)
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