COVID 19 Vaccination Program
The COVID 19 vaccination program has been no stranger to controversy in the past few months. From emergency rollouts of vaccines to political agendas, the intentions of private corporations and governments alike have been highly questionable. In this heated atmosphere, the WHO and various national governments have multiple methods to ensure that mass vaccination programs emerge successfully.
The success of any vaccination program is measured using four indicators: the Availability of the Vaccine, the Accessibility to the Vaccine, the Efficiency of the Vaccine, and the Affordability of the Vaccine. Before understanding how Accessibility can be ensured, it is essential to understand the working of the Vaccine.
There are primarily three types of vaccines that exist in the market as of now. The first type of Vaccine which exists in the market is the mRNA vaccine. These vaccines contain materials from the virus that give our cells instructions on how to make a harmless protein that is unique to the virus. Our bodies recognize that the cells containing this foreign protein should not be there and build T-lymphocytes and B-lymphocytes that will remember how to fight the virus in case of future infection. The second type of Vaccine which exists in the market is Protein subunit vaccines, which include harmless pieces of proteins of the virus that cause COVID-19 instead of the entire virus. This triggers a similar immune response involving B and T-lymphocytes. The third method of vaccination is the Vector Vaccine, which contains a different weakened virus that just has the genetic material of COVID-19. Once vaccinated, our cells make copies of the specific protein and prompt our bodies to produce T lymphocytes and B lymphocytes as in the other two vaccines.
The second key question which arises is how accessibility, availability, and affordability can be ensured. Health experts and economists alike have reached a common consensus that the best way to answer these questions is through the public healthcare system in a phase-wise program. The first phase would entail vaccinating frontline health workers. The second phase involves vaccinating the elderly and high-risk patients with pre-existing conditions, and the third phase involves vaccinating adolescents and others.
While there is no problem with the aforementioned theoretical framework, the issue lies in implementation in countries where large levels of inequality exist amongst various sections of society. The problem can be understood through the lens of India, where stark differences are visible. According to a survey conducted by the Hindustan Times in Mumbai, 57% of those surveyed in slums had tested COVID positive vis-a-vis a mere 16% in non-slum areas. Another survey conducted by Fortune magazine revealed that only 26% of households had been tested for COVID-19, and 57% of those surveyed had tested COVID positive. The primary inference drawn from the data is that the poor have disproportionately borne the brunt of the pandemic. The paradox further worsens when income reports by the UN are studied to see the strong negative correlation between income and infection rates.
The problem is clear – how should the Government ensure Accessibility to the 88 million people living below the poverty line who have been disproportionately affected?
While the previous 2009 H1N1 pandemic has shown that previous administrations have been unsuccessful in solving such an issue in time, solutions to remedy the situation exist. First, the Government needs to provide vaccines for free or at highly subsidized rates only to those who are below or marginally above the poverty line. The state should not offer free vaccines to those living in high-income areas to ensure efficiency in the process. The second essential step is to prevent black-marketing, which drastically slows down the process. This can be done by having high penalties and long sentences for those convicted and by increasing law enforcement presence in private hospitals.
By following the aforementioned steps, the Government can ensure that its vaccination program is a success and the harsh reality of inequality does not obstruct our attempts to stop this pandemic once and for all.