India runs world’s largest adult vaccination program
Seventy-five years after attaining freedom from foreign rule, our search for freedom of a different kind continues—this time the country is seeking freedom from an invisible invader—the SARS-CoV-2, which has been ravaging the country for the past 20 months. From what we know about this deadly virus, it can be tamed by following Test-Track-Treat and vaccination strategy at administrative level and encouraging adherence to Covid-Appropriate Behavior through community participation.
But to eliminate it, we needed a lasting immunity against it. Indian scientists and agencies have pushed the physical and technical boundaries to develop COVID-19 vaccines within a record period and on 16 January 2021, our Hon’ble Prime Minister launched the world’s largest adult vaccination program by introducing two “made in India” COVID-19 vaccines. The introduction of India-made vaccines within weeks of the global introduction of COVID-19 vaccines was also the beginning of an exciting period in the public health history of India.
Perhaps, this is one of the very few upsides of the COVID crisis—we have had the rare opportunity to build a healthcare infrastructure on mission mode that will do much more than just leave us stronger for future onslaughts of the kind we are currently facing.
Under the leadership of our Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi, the country has been investing a great deal of its resources in strengthening the healthcare system since March 2020 when the first few COVID cases were detected. Alongside, an entrepreneurial ecosystem for vaccine research and development, developing new diagnostics techniques as well as treatment modalities were put in place. Mission COVID Suraksha made special and proactive efforts to provide financial and technical assistance to the established vaccine manufacturers for ramping up the manufacturing capacity and start-up biotech units for exploring the new vaccine platforms and product development.
As a result, in less than a year, vaccines were developed, tested, approved and a nationwide immunization program was rolled out. Within couple of months, the country became self-reliant in the production of masks, PPE kits, testing devices, etc. that were critical to our fight against COVID-19. These COVID sensitive interventions created an enabling environment in fight against COVID-19 virus.
To further accelerate vaccination coverage, the Hon’ble Prime Minister’s decision to make vaccine free for all eligible beneficiaries at public health facilities across India demonstrated a strong political commitment at the highest level towards public health.
It is remarkable that in a matter of few months, India has administered over 750 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, among the highest globally. Currently, over 1.1 million beneficiaries are receiving the COVID vaccines in a single day. I strongly believe that it is the people’s wholehearted participation in the vaccination program that has made it such a success.
The Covid-19 vaccination drive, which aims to vaccinate the entire population of the country by the end of this year, is also yielding valuable lessons for further refining our universal immunization program and other health initiatives. Our ever-expanding Covid-19 vaccination program can become an effective entry point for delivering primary healthcare, nutrition, water, and sanitation related services to our citizens. The rapid augmentation of our healthcare facilities across the country will help us ensure that everyone has equitable access to quality healthcare.
Our healthcare and frontline workers have worked with great commitment and dedication to achieve this momentous feat of having administered 75 crore doses of COVID-19 vaccines —- a fitting tribute to our 75 years of “Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav”.
The world’s largest adult vaccination program is also strengthening India’s resolve toward Atmanirbharta. The Atmanirbharta has to be inclusive and embrace complementary collaborations for essential technology and leverage the essential interdependence across the sectors and countries. Vaccine research and development and manufacturing are similar to rocket science and nuclear program. A lot of scientific, manufacturing, technology and quality assurance processes are involved in this. There is therefore a need to create an ecosystem that encourages enterprise and domestic production of vaccines, including required raw material, using advanced technologies. For this to happen, sustained strategic investments have been made in research and development, enabling collaborations and policy support to achieve the goal and sustain them.
The revolutionary vaccine program (both development and implementation aspects) and disease surveillance measures for COVID-19 will have a long-term impact on India’s immunization program.
The pandemic has forced us to experience the fragility of life and to pay urgent attention to healthcare. It has also taught us that we no longer have the luxury of time to wait, experiment, and take small steps to build our healthcare ecosystem. The moment has come for the great leap forward– and the country is prepared to do that.
(The author is a Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare, Government of India)