The planned vaccination drive against Covid-19 will literally be an uphill task in Uttarakhand. It is true that the government system is used to vaccinating people on a large scale, but the sheer scale of the coming exercise is formidable and poses many unprecedented challenges. Only some of these will become known during the planned dry run. The Covid-19 vaccines selected for use in India, despite being more robust varieties that do not require to be kept in very low temperatures, still require sophisticated handling. With everybody having to be vaccinated twice, just keeping track of recipients will be a daunting task. It must be recalled that the attempts in various ways to identify Covid-19 patients and trace their contacts in the state proved only partially successful – a precursor of the difficulties to come.
Part of the first phase of inoculation that will address the needs of medical staff and other frontline workers should not be too difficult. In contrast, just the identification of elders and those with co-morbidities that should follow in the next stage will not be so easy. There will also be a major problem with keeping the supply chain going in the hills in the winter months. Going by the present activities in the government it does not seem that adequate planning has been done and preparations made.
In the meanwhile, the virus is not letting up in the state, which is averaging around seven deaths per day, quite in contrast to the decline nationwide. Also, as has been seen in the severely affected countries of Europe, it can come back strongly just when things seem to be under control. The newly identified variant is more infectious, though its intensity is not known. This means universal vaccination is the best way to solve the problem, particularly in the context of getting the economy back on track by a quick return to ‘normalcy’.
Making things worse is the panic being caused by the reported onset of bird flu. Going by reports of the initial response to deaths of crows in Dehradun and other places, the administration, particularly the veterinary and forest departments, hasn’t a clue to dealing with it. Merely obtaining confirmation on whether it is the flu will take several days, delaying whatever response would be forthcoming. It can only be hoped that it is just a scare and will allow single-minded handling of the Covid-19 crisis.