Right now all we want is for the COVID-19 pandemic to get over so our normal lives can resume. But the recent news about the highly transmissible Omicron variant of COVID-19 has yet again brought fear and uncertainty around us. Today on the occasion of Universal Health Coverage (UHC) Day, we spoke exclusively to Dr Rakesh Kumar, additional country director, UNDP, and former joint secretary, ministry of health & family welfare, Government of India to understand the vaccine distribution, on when we can expect booster shots and vaccines for kids and more. Here’s a low down of our conversation.

Where are we in terms of vaccination?


More than 50% of India’s eligible population (18 years and above) are fully vaccinated and close to 90% of the eligible beneficiaries have been vaccinated with at least one dose. The vaccine coverage has ramped up with the launch of the ‘Har Ghar Dastak’ Initiative by the Government of India, which has now been extended till the 31st of December 2021.

Is there enough awareness and understanding about the importance of COVID vaccines amongst the less educated?

When India’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign started in January 2021, there was unusual hesitancy witnessed among doctors and healthcare workers. Such a development would have further implications on the vaccine coverage of the larger population, if not squashed in the bud. The apprehension was attributed to a lack of vaccine efficacy data, questions on safety, quick clinical trials, and reported deaths among the elderly and sick population. Hesitancy was witnessed both in the rich and the poor, rural, urban, tribal population as well as pregnant women. However, with regular communications on the benefits of vaccines by the highest leadership of the country and eminent scientists & medical professionals, 24X7 media and social media monitoring addressing rumours with facts, door to door interpersonal communications, and the tragic second wave in April, the demand for a vaccination shot up. By October, the country had crossed 1 billion+ vaccine doses and more than 50% of the adult population had been fully vaccinated.

With the news of the more transmissible variant of concern, Omicron having reached India, how concerned should we be?


We must be cautious and vigilant but not paranoid about the new variant. The pandemic is not yet over, therefore, we must continue to maintain public health measures especially COVID-19 appropriate behavior and take both doses of the vaccine when we get a chance.

When can we expect booster shots and vaccines for kids?


The Government of India will decide if booster doses are needed but at the moment it is more important to get the entire population including children vaccinated against the virus. As many as five COVID-19 vaccines have been granted permission to conduct clinical trials in children and adolescents by the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO). These five vaccines are Cadila Healthcare’s ZyCoV-D, Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin, Serum Institute’s Covovax, Biological E’s RBD, and Johnson & Johnson and Ad 26COV.2S vaccine.

Is there equal vaccination distribution?


Countries with low vaccine manufacturing/production capacity and who are dependent upon others are struggling to get their populations vaccinated. That is the reality. On the other hand, due to India’s mature vaccine manufacturing, production, supply chain/ cold chain management, and distribution capacities, and the experience of running large-scale successful immunization campaigns, we have not been affected. As the eligible population gets vaccinated, the focus must be on getting the vaccines to the last mile and vaccinating the tribal, and rural populations. Equity in distribution can also be addressed when countries share knowledge, information, and best practices. It is extremely vital to have a recognized learning exchange platform such as the USAID-funded ‘City to City COVID-19 Vaccination Learning Exchange (CoVLEx)’ initiative, launched by NITI Aayog and Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW), where LMICs can share experiences & collaborate to ramp up the global COVID-19 vaccination and routine immunization efforts, especially adult immunization.

Are urban poor like house help, drivers, cooks coming forward to get vaccinated?


Urban poor are usually daily wage and migrant workers. Therefore, state governments in India have had to start vaccination camps at workplaces/industries and factory sites so that they do not skip their workdays or miss their daily wages. The government has ensured flexible vaccine timings/ schedules to ensure the urban poor also get vaccinated. Under the Har Ghar Dastak (door to door) campaign, those who have missed their vaccine doses or not taken them are being targeted aggressively. Increasingly a greater number of people are coming out to get vaccinated. As per our experience in an urban health project, vaccine hesitancy has slowly disappeared as the campaign has moved forward. Through the USAID-funded Samagra urban health initiative, PSI is ensuring slum dwellers (including pregnant women, LGBTQIA, etc.) are informed about the benefits and schedule of COVID-19 vaccination. As a result, we have supported people in vaccine registration, and taken them to centers to get vaccinated in five cities under the project – Indore, Mumbai, Delhi, Ahmedabad, and Bhubaneswar. Many urban poor and vulnerable populations have been empowered with information and supported diligently to take their vaccines.

Read more: When can kids expect to get the COVID vaccine?



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