Viewpoint: The economics of vaccination

07 MAR,2021 | MEDC


India has embarked on of the world’s most ambitious vaccination programmes. With vaccines now available to citizens with comorbidities aged above 45, and also those who are simply above 60, millions have registered through official channels. In a wise move, the government has also opened the vaccination process for 24 hours in a day so as to cover more people. As many as 20 health conditions will qualify the middle-aged for a priority shot, ranging from diabetes and hypertension to vulnerabilities of the heart, liver and kidney. It is important that this phase succeeds, as it coincides with a new wave of Covid infections in at least eight states, raising fears of more lockdowns and consequent economic slowdowns. The strategic involvement of the private sector will be a critical factor in the success of this new vaccination drive if the goal is to have 300 million Indians covered by August, including the 30 million who were eligible for jabs in the first phase. How quickly India could tackle its Covid threat by imparting immunity to the population would depend not just on the physical logistics of the drive, but also on the underlying policy – how soon the government facilitates the development of a competitive and dynamic market for vaccines. Containing the spread of Covid through vaccination depends as much on sound economic logic as on advances in medical research. If India’s large corporate houses are enlisted as vaccine-providers, and asked to deploy it first for the benefit of their in-house staff and then (priced competitively) for the larger public, clearer progress will soon emerge. Many urban industrial units have large shop-floor space (much of which is currently unutilized due to social distancing norms) that could be productively deployed for this purpose. For immunization to succeed, we need to empower citizens with choices. The progress made so far is commendable, but it could be enhanced with just a few policy tweaks. The government has done well to cap the price of the vaccine at Rs. 250 – an amount affordable to almost all Indians. Policymakers should now map out a pathway towards an open vaccine market, so that global players can also join in the action as soon as the supply demand mismatch is resolved. If this is done now, global vaccine makers will get time to conduct trials, clear regulatory hurdles, and set up suitable distribution channels before our highly disruptive monsoon arrives. Let those Indians who can afford to pay more, and are sceptical of the efficacy of local vaccines, do so. It will be ultimately a strategic collaboration of the public and private sectors (and across national boundaries) that could make our vaccination drive a role model for the world. 

*Photo Credit: Google


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