India's COVID-19 vaccination drive: Key challenges and resolutions

Om Prakash Choudhary, Priyanka Choudhary, Indraj Singh
Contd from last Saturday
The Government of India has now amended the vaccination policy by waiving the preregistration requirement and offering free vaccinations to accelerate the programme. However, mass gatherings at health-care settings might lead to a further surge in daily cases. Door-to-door vaccination might be a feasible and safe solution to avoid such assemblies.
The COVID-19 vaccine drive in India was launched on Jan 16, 2021. From May 1, 2021, all people older than 18 years are eligible in phase 4 of the vaccination drive. By July 20, 2021, 326·4 million people in India (23·4% of the population) had received the first dose of the vaccine, and 85·4 million people (6·1% of the population) had received the second dose.4 At the current pace, it would not be possible to vaccinate the whole nation by the end of 2021. The Government of India therefore implemented a centralised vaccination policy and administered more than 8·6 million COVID-19 vaccine doses on day 1 (June 21, 2021).4 Such a vaccination strategy might be helpful in achieving mass vaccination against COVID-19. However, ensuring a consistent vaccine supply is a substantial challenge to maintaining such a high pace and achieve nationwide coverage.
Vaccine hesitancy is a widespread challenge in India, fuelled by misinformation and mistrust, particularly in rural areas where 65·5% of the population resides. For example, in Jamsoti village (Uttar Pradesh), there is a prevalent myth that SARS-CoV-2 does not exist in villages.
In another instance, a team for COVID-19 awareness and vaccination drive was attacked by the local residents of Malkhedi village (Madhya Pradesh). Rumours about vaccines disrupting the menstruation cycle and reducing fertility have also contributed to fear and skewed the data in favour of men.
To overcome these rumours at the village level, the Government of India needs to take stringent actions to achieve mass awareness and vaccination. Village heads and community health workers could have a proactive role in organising culturally relatable campaigns in local languages. (To be contd)