New Delhi: India’s vaccination pace is very slow, as compared to the US, a report by the National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM) has said. At this rate, the report estimated, quoting studies by various institutes, daily new case numbers could cross 6 lakh per day in case of a third wave. The report was shared on the NIDM website earlier this month.
While the Union Ministry of Health has cited data from the US and other countries to claim that India’s Covid vaccination rate is the highest, the report of the NIDM, which functions under the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), says India’s coronavirus immunisation drive needs to pick up pace.
“The emergence of a third wave could be significantly challenged by expanding vaccination but only around 7.6 per cent (10.4 crore) are fully vaccinated… According to a recent study done by professors and alumni from Pandit Deendayal Energy University (PDEU) in collaboration with Nirma University, the vaccination rate of India is currently 3.2 per cent which if does not improve, India can witness 6 lakh cases per day in the next (third) wave,” the report states.
“But if the government’s proposal to increase this rate by five times (1 crore doses per day) comes to fruition, India will see only 25 per cent of the cases (seen in the second wave) during the third wave peak.”
Among the experts who were consulted during the making of the report were A.K. Sengar, inspector general, National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and Dr Amit Murari, commandant, NDRF, Dr Anurag Agarwal, director, Council of Scientific and Industrial Research-Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (CSIR-IGIB), Dr M.C. Mishra, former director, AIIMS, Dr Gagandeep Kang, professor, Christian Medical College, Vellore, Dr Jyoti Bindal, vice-chancellor, Sri Aurobindo University Indore, and Dr Debasis Dash, chief scientist at CSIR-IGIB.
Strengthening of medical infrastructure, the report says, “requires immediate attention for when the country witnesses a third wave”.
“Public medical infrastructures are weak with severe shortages in qualified medical staff especially for children, then there is a huge gap between rural and urban India. The vaccine rollout (deemed as the only way out of this pandemic) has also been slow as compared to other countries (India’s 7.6 per cent vaccination rate vis-a-vis US’ 50 per cent). It is the absolute responsibility of the government to provide security and safety to its citizens even more so during this pandemic…” it adds.
The report also expresses concern about the lower vaccination coverage among women in the country as compared to men, and urges states to work on closing the gender gap.
“…The proportion of vaccine coverage… 856 doses to women for every 1,000 doses for men not matching India’s current sex ratio of 924 women per 1,000 men. The largest state in India, Uttar Pradesh, has 42 per cent vaccination of women, West Bengal has 44 per cent female coverage, Dadra and Nagar Haveli (predominantly rural UT) 30 per cent. Only a few states — Kerala and Andhra Pradesh — have more vaccine coverage for women than men,” it says. “Rural women are even more marginally placed vaccination-wise.”
Third wave and children
The report dwells at length on apprehensions about children bearing the brunt of the third Covid wave — if and when it happens — but cites observations made by the Indian Academy of Pediatrics and the Lancet Covid-19 Commission India Task Force, one of 12 task forces that supports the work of the Lancet Covid-19 Commission (an interdisciplinary initiative across the health sciences, business, finance, and public policy), to conclude that there is no evidence in support of that hypothesis.
It also draws on data from the fourth nationwide serosurvey, conducted by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) in June and July, to make that assessment. According to the serosurvey, 55.7 per cent of those aged between 2-17 years who were tested for antibodies were found to have had prior exposure to the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
However, the report states, there “is a cause for worry if not panic according to public health experts, since the children below 18 years remain unvaccinated in India”.
“Also, the existing paediatric healthcare facilities are not robust enough to treat children on a large scale. Epidemics have the maximum impact on a country’s future, the Lancet Covid-19 Commission India Task Force report also points that though children have milder disease and low mortality rate as compared to adults, those with underlying comorbidities might be at higher risk,” it adds.
‘Vaccination for children a priority’
The NIDM has recommended that vaccination for children, especially those with comorbidities, should be an immediate priority, and teachers and school staff should be vaccinated as essential workers. The report also calls for vaccination of pregnant women on priority.
It lays emphasis on community engagement and health communication to enforce Covid-appropriate behaviour.
“Public health messaging and communication with respect to Covid-appropriate behaviour (CAB) and vaccination should be based on community engagement and must address specific concerns of the community members, especially in rural areas,” it says. “Risk communication must aim to create awareness by reasonably explaining the reasons behind the do’s and dont’s so that people are able to follow them by using logical reasoning rather than blindly following directives and guidelines.”
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)