The thousands of seafarers anxious to resume duties, stranded overseas workers, students seeking international education and sportspersons will finally heave a sigh of relief as the Union Ministry of Health issued new standard operating procedures prioritizing their vaccination and reducing the gap between two doses to 28 days from the standard 84 days. Secondly, the Centre's decision to take over vaccine procurement and supplies from the States, reversing a policy taken a month ago, and promising free vaccines for 18+ category from June 21 will give a new fillip to a sluggish inoculation process.
The Central change in policy must be welcome since it was becoming increasingly evident that individual states were failing since they were competing for the limited supply. The global tenders floated by many States were not working, and the Supreme Court scrutiny was only exposing the chinks in the system. Lastly, the Centre-State discord was showing.
The biggest stumbling block for vaccination has been politicking with several States dabbling between centralised and decentralised system. For example, among several other heads of States, Chief Minister of Bengal Mamata Banerjee wrote twice to the PM pleading her case to allow direct purchase of vaccines for free distribution. Rahul Gandhi had slammed the Centre for bypassing States and not allowing them a say in vaccine procurement. The very opposition voices have now returned to thank Prime Minister Narendra Modi for "acceding to their request of a centralised chain".
Modi, while intervening at a crucial time, has sent out very subtle messages in his address to the nation. One, that we are in a process of learning and course correction -- centralised, de-centralised and back again to a centralized plan of vaccination. Secondly, the politics behind the vaccination is jarring in the background and it is taking a toll on the welfare of citizens. Thirdly, seamless Centre-State coordination across the political divide is necessary to ensure the success of the vaccination programme.
While the Centre has stepped in, the vaccine producers will have to play their part as well by ramping up production to meet the demand while States will have to scale up the pace of vaccination. In Goa, Sawant, who is known for setting impractical deadlines, has the odds stacked up against him because vaccination drives are losing the fizz and have been used as political campaigns.
The question that needs to be asked is, what’s the way forward for Goa? While the Centre redraws strategies, Goa will have to rework its plan if the State has to reach anywhere close to Sawant's targeted date of July-end for full inoculation. The urgency to begin with priority doses for those seeking overseas travel from Wednesday is encouraging, but for vaccination to be a success in Goa, Sawant will have to transverse boundaries. He will have to open up vaccination further, taking it across rural areas by engaging local bodies. The ball is in the State’s court now.