COVID Vaccine Equity: 3 Challenges & 1 Opportunity For 2022

Vaccine inequity remains a hindrance in India’s fight against COVID. Read this blog on what issues it’s facing and how it can turn the tide.
Representative Image.
Representative Image.NewsGram Desk

Statistics gathered by John Hopkins University show that India ranks among the three countries hit the worst by COVID-19. It ranks second in the number of cases at over 43 million and third in death count at around 520,000. For most of the time frame between January 2020 and May 2022, the country’s daily new cases remain above 1,000.

Local and foreign analysts point to unequal access to COVID-19 vaccines, known as vaccine inequity, as one of the main reasons for the pandemic persisting in India. The government has only vaccinated roughly a third out of the nation’s 1.38-billion people due to limiting factors like language barriers and population distribution.

This article is a breakdown of the challenges in getting the Indian population vaccinated and any future opportunities in combatting India's COVID crisis.

The challenges:

1. Most Indians can’t read English

The first step in getting the vaccine, let alone a booster, entails online registration. The problem is that the registration website is in English—a language that only around 10% of Indians can read or speak, as per an Associated Press report last year. Without such a skill, many end up not signing up for the vaccine.

A separate study by the New Delhi-based nonprofit Lok Foundation confirms this across social classes and educational attainments. English literacy seems to be more prevalent among high-income families and college degree holders. However, while more English-fluent people live in urban than rural areas, both areas are predominantly non-English fluent.

2. Indians are prone to misinformation

The low English literacy also opens up for spreaders of misinformation to convince people not to get the vaccine. The skepticism doesn’t just extend to the public at large but also among well-known public personalities. The resulting vaccine hesitancy has drastically limited the country’s inoculation efforts, especially in the first few months.

Even among the well-informed, a sizeable fraction shows uncertainty in taking the vaccine. In a survey of over 1,600 adults in India, more than a quarter said they weren’t sure about getting the shot, while a tenth said they wouldn’t get vaccinated. Given India’s population, researchers said the percentages translate to millions at risk of becoming vectors for new infections.

3. Vaccine allocation remains low in rural areas

According to a Reuters report, the national government last year allocated only as many vaccines in 114 underdeveloped districts as in nine major metropolitan areas. That translates to 23 million doses for 176 million residents in places that hardly have decent internet access, among other amenities. Localized lockdowns contribute to the inability to supply more vaccines.

Furthermore, the local health infrastructure remains lacking in these places. In fact, many residents live in areas where the nearest hospital or healthcare facility is hours away, and sometimes the only way there is through dirt roads or around a mountain. Even with local programs offering free vaccines for people under a certain age, the travel time can dissuade some from seizing such opportunities.

The opportunity: ‘The Janefal Model’

Amid the challenges mentioned, India can claim victory in some aspects of its ongoing campaign against COVID. Sunil Chavan of the Collector Office Aurangabad district claimed that every village wanted to be Janefal.

Janefal, a small village in Maharashtra State, India, became the site of a 100% vaccination rate with all 65 eligible residents despite having its share of skeptics. The success inspired over a dozen nearby villages to conduct their vaccination drives, more or less following what experts dub the “Janefal model.”

While it may seem like a single opportunity, the model has the potential to resolve a lot of the issues currently plaguing India’s COVID response. It entails creating a task force comprised of local officials to identify the residents’ misgivings and conduct door-to-door information drives for months in the run-up to the vaccination day. In doing so, the model:

- Provides a direct interaction with people, preferably in their native tongue

- Reduces vaccine wastage to zero by allocating the ideal amount of doses

- Mitigates fear and doubt among the residents by leading by example

When combined with existing COVID response strategies, the model can at least limit COVID spikes at the more manageable district level.

Conclusion

India’s COVID campaign needs swift and steady action in the face of growing vaccine inequity. The longer these challenges persist, the more the country’s COVID response will be hard beset. As everyone probably already knows, the disease grows more dangerous over time. Therefore, it’s in its best interest to welcome any opportunity to curb such growth.

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