India on October 21 touched a historical milestone of having administered one billion vaccine doses. The path to the next billion, however, seems uphill.
Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan highlighted the challenge himself. “Completion of the second dose is the next challenge.”
Why so? A recent study based on primary research with 3,500 citizens conducted by Boston Consulting Group’s (BCG’s) Centre of Customer Insight (CCI) shows that only about half the population (54-62 per cent) who are vaccinated with the first dose, have high willingness to take the second dose.
About 35 per cent of this segment is indifferent, driven by lower Covid-19 cases, and believe one shot is sufficient to protect them against the infection.
BCG pointed out that across India only 54-62 per cent is willing to take the second dose. Abhishek Gopalka, MD and Partner, BCG, said demand hesitancy is likely to become the major constraint.
“Key drivers of hesitancy or apathy for the second dose are that Covid is in control, or that one shot is sufficient for immunity,” said Gopalka, who leads BCG’s work in public health in India. A high number of fence-sitters are in urban areas and large towns — around 44 per cent of the unvaccinated population. Among the older age groups, the proportion of fence sitters is about 56 per cent of the unvaccinated population.
Rough estimates by public health experts suggest about 90 million partially vaccinated people in India are due for their second dose.
In a review meeting on Saturday, the Union Health Ministry asked states to identify and prioritise districts with low coverage and take a targeted approach towards mobilization.
The BCG report shows that as of September 15, states like Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Gujarat seem to have done well when it comes to second dose coverage. For example, from 4 per cent coverage in May, Maharashtra’s second dose coverage improved to 14 per cent in September.
The BCG report further highlighted that there is a drop in willingness in urban cohorts since March. As for second dose adoption, urban areas have more willing adopters compared to rural areas.
Public health experts say India cannot make vaccination mandatory, as it may have a backlash. “We have to identify pockets where there is unwillingness or hesitancy, and then find local influencers, religious, political, social, etc., who can educate and inspire these people to come forward,” said Dileep Mavlankar, director, Indian Institute of Public Health (IIPH). He added that India can now also focus on individual causes of hesitancy.
“The government has pulled off a herculean effort. India can become an exemplar via two initiatives: targeted communications to address specific drivers of demand hesitancy – and delivery innovations to reach the vulnerable parts of the country,” Gopalka said. Business Standard