Fix vax drive, ensure poor & villagers not left out: Lancet

India needs to overcome its shortcomings in combatting Covid quickly by adopting a two-pronged strategy to control the outbreak that include setting right the vaccination campaign and measures to ensure poorer and rural citizens are not left out, medical journal The Lancet has said.

Pointing out the weaknesses in the government’s response, The Lancet said in an editoral that, “First, the botched vaccination campaign must be rationalised and implemented with all due speed.”

There are two bottlenecks that need to be overcome: the vaccine supply needs to be raised, with some imports, and a distribution campaign that can cover not just urban but also rural and poorer citizens needs to be set up to ensure a more equitable distribution. The editorial recommended measures to reduce transmission of the virus as much as possible, while the vaccine is being rolled out.

“As cases continue to mount, the government must publish accurate data in a timely manner, and forthrightly explain to the public what is happening and what is needed to bend the epidemic curve, including possibility of a new federal lockdown,” it said.

The journal said the Indian government gave the impression that India had beaten Covid-19 despite repeated warnings of the dangers of a second wave and emergence of new strains, in comments that are sharply critical of the Centre on the recent surge of Covid-19 cases and deaths in the country.

“The impression from the government was that India had beaten Covid-19 after several months of low case counts, despite repeated warnings of the dangers of a second wave and the emergence of new strains,” the editorial said, while also criticising health minister Harsh Vardhan for announcing in early March that the country is in the end game of Covid.

“At times, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has seemed more intent on removing criticism on Twitter than trying to control the pandemic,” the editorial said. “Modi’s actions in attempting to stifle criticism and open discussion during the crisis are inexcusable,” it added. The editorial also quoted estimates by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, a global health research institution, that said India could potentially see one million deaths due to the Covid-19 pandemic by August 1.

“The message that Covid-19 was essentially over also slowed the start of India’s Covid-19 vaccination campaign, which has vaccinated less than 2% of the population,” it said.

The journal also criticised the government’s decision to allow religious and political congregations despite warnings and said these events are “conspicuous for their lack of Covid-19 mitigation measures”.

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