India may adopt a more pragmatic approach towards vaccinating its large population against covid-19 as the widening fiscal deficit and lower revenues will likely put pressure on government resources for a nationwide vaccination exercise, according to experts.
“The vaccination cannot happen in one calendar year. It might be spread over a couple of years. So, the cost will not show up substantially in one year and maybe in phases over two years or so. That way, the government should be able to allocate more resources as this is the most crucial thing to revive economic activity,” said N.R. Bhanumurthy, vice-chancellor at BASE University at Bengaluru.
He said the government could consider shifting funds from less-critical schemes towards the vaccination programme. This would also substantially reduce the burden on the exchequer.
Vaccines, when a successful candidate is available, is considered the best shot at achieving normalcy, but the cost is expected to be enormous. A report by international brokerage Sanford Bernstein last week had estimated that vaccinating 60% people in India to achieve herd immunity may require around $6 billion over three years; a cost the government may be unwilling to undertake entirely, considering the fiscal constraints. Instead, the brokerage estimates the government may incur a cost for only around a third of the population at around $2 billion and ask the remainder to use private modes of getting vaccinated.
This would involve prioritization of the population, something health secretary Rajesh Bhushan has alluded to often, and for which, the National Expert Committee on Vaccine Administration was set up. “In my opinion, the first priority will be to give the vaccine to healthcare providers, people with comorbidities, pregnant women and elderly. It is also important that the vaccine is available in the private market for those who can pay, which is up to 25% in some states,” said Naveen Thacker, a former civil society organization representative for Gavi Board, The Vaccine Alliance. – Livemint