The COVID-19 vaccine is coming to India

Image Source: CNBC

When is it coming?

There are 26 vaccine candidates around the world in their clinical trial phase. The leading candidate is the Oxford University-AstraZeneca’s ‘Covishield’ whose third stage clinical trials have started at the Serum Institute in Pune (India).

How will Indians get it?

The government has already indicated its plans to procure 680 Mn doses for 1300 Mn Indians by June 2021.

But the question here is, should it be free for everyone?

Pharmaceuticals, especially vaccines, is a high-risk, high-reward business with investors who stand to lose large investments if the vaccine fails to be effective.

So should the Indian government really provide it for free?

If we think of this vaccine as a ‘Public-good’ and argue that the Government should bear the cost of paying the vaccine manufacturers and provide it to every citizen for free, we forget the unique problems of our country.

Accessibility

  1. It is unlikely that we will get all 1.3 Bn doses for each citizen at a time. In the best case, we will get half of it by June 2021.
  2. So who gets it first?
  3. Given the vaccines are scarce, the effects of inequality will kick in and this might eventually pave the way for a black market and corruption involving bribing public officials for access.

Overconsumption

  1. Just because it’s free, people who are not technically ‘at-risk’ will want the vaccine just out of a simple bandwagon effect.
  2. And the thing to keep in mind is that we still don’t know the long-term effects of this vaccine on humans due to the expedited rate of the clinical trials.

So what’s the solution?

Instead of making it free, the government should think of playing the role of a subsidizer.

  • Other healthcare professionals
  • A ‘ring-vaccination strategy’ covering major covid clusters to avoid the spread of the virus
  • ‘At-risk’ people with comorbidities under the age of 65
  • Pregnant women, infants and toddlers

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