India is gearing up for a mass vaccine drive against COVID-19. Delhi alone has identified an estimated 3,500 healthcare workers to begin training for the gargantuan task in the national capital.
“The training drive started on Monday,” said Dr Suneela Garg of Maulana Azad Medical College. “Today [Tuesday] is the second day of the training. Initially, 3,500 workers will be trained in Delhi.” Dr Garg has been appointed as the public health expert for Delhi’s vaccine drive against COVID-19 – the disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) or – simply – coronavirus.
Initial targets in Delhi are to inoculate between 1.8 lakh and 2.5 lakh healthcare workers in the national capital, among the regions of India hardest-hit by the pandemic. To facilitate this, 609 cold chain points have been identified in major hospitals and the state government-run Mohalla clinics. Garg said that “key people like state immunisation officer and immunisation technical support unit of United Nations Development Programme have already been trained by the Centre and they have begun the state-level training in Delhi.”
Earlier this month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said a vaccine drive would commence as soon as scientists give the go-ahead with US$7 billion earmarked for this purpose. The Government has outlined detailed guidelines for vaccination against SARS-Cov-2, prioritising healthcare and other frontline workers and those aged above fifty in the first phase. Those aged under fifty with comorbidities are to be targeted next, followed by the remainder of the population.
It is lost on few, if any, the major logistical challenges of a mass vaccination campaign for a population in excess of 1.3 billion people. The country has an impressive track record with immunisation. Its Universal Immunisation Programme has won international plaudits and its success in defeating polio stands as one of the major public health successes of the 21st century. But issues remain – ranging from concerns over vaccine infrastructure such as cold chain points, vaccine skepticism, and disparities between the health systems of individual states.
The country will require a hefty infrastructural capacity to make a mass inoculation against COVID-19 a success. As reported by Livemint, “for Covid-19 vaccination, India may need 1.3 lakh-1.4 lakh vaccination centres, one lakh healthcare professionals as inoculators and two lakh support staff or volunteers.” The country aspires to have inoculated thirty crore people by July 2021. To do this, the capacity must be in place and clear, implementable strategies outlined and rolled out.