Building public confidence in immunisation is criticalFebruary 6, 2021
As we all are aware, public spending on healthcare is woefully low in India. The government resources which are already in place are both scarce and limited in quantity and quality. Therefore, it is the prime responsibility of each and every stakeholder to ensure that these resources are utilised in the most productive way. The context that I am building is related to the nationwide COVID-19 vaccination programme. It is a fact that with the current healthcare budget, the government can’t afford to immunize the whole population of India. Thanks to the pandemic, several external sources of funds, including the World Bank, have come to the help with the country’s emergency healthcare needs. The cost of India’s immunization drive—dubbed as the largest in the world—is certainly beyond the public budget. So, it is obvious that community participation — with out-of-pocket expenditure pushed through an immense awareness campaign — would become imperative.
Of course, that’s one of the reasons for the phased implementation. But the saddest part is that even after putting so much of our limited resources in place to launch the first stage of the vaccination programme, and that too exclusively focused on the informed group of healthcare forces, it didn’t elicit the expected response. In several states, it was even below 50% of the potential recipients.
In my observation based on extensive IIHMR University’s public healthcare research analysis, there are two major factors that led to poor turnout at vaccination booths. The first is the psychological fear that has gripped the minds of even healthcare workers about the safety of the vaccines. The second is certainly the lack of attention paid to public awareness and confidence-building in the overall scheme of things.
The government has tried its level best to set up the right logistics, infrastructure and resources, including training for vaccinators. But unfortunately, it couldn’t do much to create the required social awareness as far as the safety and efficacy of the vaccines and the overall benefits of the programme are concerned. So, this has led to not only missed time and opportunity, but also gross underutilisation of the already invested money and other resources. The overall operational strategy should have thought about a Plan-B as well, particularly to enable better utilisation of the resources in a situation where participation from the targeted and identified segment falls short of expectation.
Overall, the medical and healthcare community in the country still has a major role to play in creating that much-needed confidence among the targeted segments and ensuring that limited public resources are better utilised and ultimately turning the programme impactful.
—As told to CH Unnikrishnan