Since the beginning of April 2021, many states in India have experienced a rather virulent second surge and this has thrown up multiple challenges. India’s healthcare systems and personnel have been stretched, and the multiple cracks in our healthcare infrastructure was exposed. Many states in the country witnessed a shortage in hospital beds, critical care medicines and equipment, oxygen supply and so forth. Oxygen consumption, which is directly proportional to the number of cases, has shot up drastically. Prepandemic, India required medical oxygen of about 700 tons a day. The first wave saw demand rise to 3,000 tons a day, and now demand has gone up for as much as 8,000 tons a day. The second wave has also given rise to numerous make-shift hospitals across the country to cater to the growing need for hospital beds, oxygen beds and critical care equipment. Several states have responded to the crises with the installation of war rooms at the state and district level to monitor patient shifting, data collection and oxygen supply.
In response to the creation of the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for COVID-19 (NEGVAC) and with the objective of galvanizing Industry support, CII formed a Task Force on COVID-19 Vaccine to supplement the Government’s initiatives in the vaccination drive. The Task Force is chaired by Mr T V Narendran, President-Designate, CII and CEO & MD, Tata Steel Ltd, and co-chaired by Dr Randeep Guleria, Director, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) and Chairman, CII Public Health Council. The Task Force also comprises of Industry Members from across the healthcare continuum.
With the help of the Task Force and it’s pan-India network, CII has been sharing critical data and expertise with NEGVAC as well as engaging in communication and outreach on the vaccination programme. In the submissions, CII has consistently requested the Government to involve the Industry fully in the massive inoculation to ensure that the vaccines reach those who need it the most in an accessible and equitable manner. According to CII, this national mission should be approached with the joint support of private and public sectors.
The Task Force on COVID-19 Vaccine carried out multiple interactions with various departments of the Government over the last few months and several key recommendations have been submitted. Some of them are as follows:
In order to reduce the burden on healthcare infrastructure and prevent further mutations & waves from occurring, our primary concern now is to vaccinate the adult population of India. To vaccinate adult population (18 years and above), particularly in states experiencing a spike, the Government of India allowed vaccination of all persons above the age of 18 to begin from 1 May.
Vaccination is the only way through which our battle against COVID-19 can be won over the medium term, while protecting both lives and livelihoods and allowing the country to return to usual economic activity at a fast pace. The Industry has taken several steps in order to improve our vaccination coverage across the nation. CII is in touch with the two vaccine manufacturers in the country, Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech International Ltd, to ascertain the possibility of purchase of vaccine doses as per the requirements mapped through the CII survey.
The Government has also permitted Industry members to undertake vaccination on their premises provided there are more than 100 beneficiaries and also placed the spending on this for nonemployee beneficiaries under the CSR rules. Taking advantage of this, CII has therefore requested Members who wish to expand their vaccination drive to external members of the community to advise their requirements which is being further added to the aggregate. Through this initiative, over 1000 companies, mainly small and medium companies, from 170 cities have so far come forward to identify their requirements. As on date, CII received demand from 1062 small, medium and large companies from across the country for approximately 40 lakh single vaccine doses. Of this, companies have identified demand of 36% for employees, 47% for family members of the employees, and 17% is for community outreach efforts.
The vaccination project, largely aimed at the economic agents of the country, who are common citizens, will help enterprises to revert to their usual scale of operations at the earliest so that lives and livelihoods are both preserved.
Even though the daily active cases have plateaued slightly over the last few days, this is not the time for India to be lax about the situation. India need to prepare for the third-wave and not repeat the mistakes. The country’s healthcare infrastructure needs to be built up in order to withstand future waves that may or may not occur.
The lives and livelihoods of every single citizen is the only priority that should matter, and in order to protect them, Industry and Government together need to actively take every measure to ensure that we guard our nation. We are in this situation together, and like multiple adversities India has faced in the past, we will together overcome this pandemic.