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COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan: An Aadhaar-like technology backbone is a good idea

Just as Aadhaar depended on private firms to enrol people, the vaccine plan would have to be a PPP effort with the government laying down the SOPs and 150,000-200,000 private vaccinators actually ensuring delivery on the ground.Just as Aadhaar depended on private firms to enrol people, the vaccine plan would have to be a PPP effort with the government laying down the SOPs and 150,000-200,000 private vaccinators actually ensuring delivery on the ground.

While the government is readying a plan to provide a Covid-19 vaccine to healthcare and frontline workers as soon as it is available—the Union health minister, last week, indicated availability of 400-500 million doses by June next year—it hasn’t put down any plan of action on paper as yet. And, while India has had fair success with immunisation programmes in the past, its experience with mass immunisation has been limited. Therefore, Infosys co-founder and creator of India’s Aadhaar ecosystem, Nandan Nilekani believes that technology can be the answer to getting the vaccine to every Indian. Speaking at the Idea Exchange earlier this week, Nilekani said that India needs to leverage its Aadhaar architecture to ensure mass immunisation.

Just as Aadhaar depended on private firms to enrol people, the vaccine plan would have to be a PPP effort with the government laying down the SOPs and 150,000-200,000 private vaccinators actually ensuring delivery on the ground. Apart from the Aadhaar architecture, the technology backbone is critical to manage the numbers; 260-mn vaccines if it is a double-dose solution and the possibility that this may have to be repeated in 6-12 months since the immunity may not last very long. Indeed, since the vaccines are being cleared on an emergency basis, several may not even work; follow-up antibody tests will be needed to identify efficacy, in which case, a technology backbone is critical to identify which persons need to be re-vaccinated, and after how long.

While the technology platform, Nilekani believes, will only cost a few hundred crore rupees, the cost of vaccination will be in the Rs 80,000 crore range that Serum Institute’s Adar Poonawalla had estimated; more so when costs of storage and transportation are added. Apart from the fact that the poor cannot afford the cost, it will be difficult to ensure complete vaccination if people have to pay for it.

Like many others, India has been proactive and has constituted a task force on vaccines, the progress since has been poor. How the vaccine will be distributed in various parts of the country is also a challenge. Should Mumbai get it first because it has registered more deaths, or should Bengaluru receive it because it has more active cases, or is Bihar more worthy because it does not have enough health infrastructure? These are all questions that cannot be left to be decided at the last moment.

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