Mr Mandaviya’s task

New Health Minister will have to ensure the country meets vaccination targets, is not caught off-guard again by virus

The coronavirus seems to be on the retreat in large parts of the country. However, with 73 districts still reporting a positivity rate in excess of 10 per cent, the new Health and Family Welfare Minister, Mansukh Mandaviya, has his work cut out. The second wave not only showed the country’s pandemic preparedness in unflattering light, but it also undid a lot of the good work of last year. Mechanisms of cooperation between the Centre and the states, that worked well during the first wave, broke down when the resurgence of the virus led to a scramble for hospital beds and oxygen cylinders. The resolution of the tension between Centre and the states over vaccine allocation required the Supreme Court’s intervention. It’s clear, therefore, that the new minister will have to put several correctives in place — as well as respond to the new challenges the unpredictable virus could throw up.

Mandaviya is not new to the health sector. As minister of state for fertilisers and chemicals, he has overseen the work of pharma companies and vaccine manufacturers. As health minister, he can bring more insights in negotiations with Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech at a time when the government is nudging these outfits to ramp up vaccine production. The conjoining of the two responsibilities places Mandaviya in a better position, compared to his predecessor, in ascertaining the progress of the vaccination drive that entered a new phase two weeks ago with the Centre assuming charge of procuring 75 per cent of the vaccines. After picking up momentum in the last week of June, it seems to have slowed down in the past five days. Vaccine shortages have been reported in Delhi and parts of UP and Bihar and daily shots administered have dropped to less than 40 lakh in the last five days from about 60 lakh a fortnight ago. In several states, notably Odisha and Jharkhand, vaccine uptake by private healthcare providers has been way short of the Centre’s target of 25 per cent. These snags must be addressed immediately — the country cannot afford to miss its vaccination targets.

The failure to anticipate the second wave owes in large measure to long-standing inadequacies of the country’s health information system. But given the significance of reliable data in dealing with an unpredictable pathogen, this shortcoming should have been resolved at an early stage of the pandemic. The country shouldn’t undergo another trauma as a result of being caught off guard by the virus. This urgent imperative should drive the new health minister’s work.

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