As the Narendra Modi government’s National Expert Committee on Vaccine Administration deliberates on a vaccination strategy against Covid-19, the single biggest thing it should be wary of is status quo-ism packaged as pragmatism. One thing India is not short of are people who can tell you why something cannot be done. We are now being told that a fast, universal national vaccination campaign is not possible because India does not have the infrastructure, administrative capacity and funds to do so.
A couple of weeks ago, a research report by Sanford Bernstein, a financial brokerage firm estimated that it will take as long as three years to vaccinate 60 per cent of the population at a total cost of $6 billion. The government’s share of this will be $2 billion, which will cover 30 per cent of the population. The remaining 30 per cent will purchase the vaccine privately at a cost of $4 billion (because the government will procure the vaccine at $3 per dose, as opposed to $6 in the private market). The analysis might have calculated timelines based on the public health system’s rate of delivering 60-100 million vaccinations per year. I do not have access to the report, but if the media summary is correct, it would seem that the Indian government will pursue Covid-19 vaccination as if it were any other vaccination project. It takes a lot of cynicism to set such low expectations of the government. Worse, if such low expectations get anchored in public discourse, they might creep into public policy, becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.