[Editorial Analysis] Open the conversation

Mains Paper 2: Health
Prelims level: COVID-19 vaccine
Mains level: Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health


• Last month, Union Health and Family Welfare Minister Harsh Vardhan told the Rajya Sabha that he expects a vaccine against COVID-19 to be available by early 2021.

• But he added a note of caution about the time it could take to reach everyone.

Prioritisation of groups:

• On Sunday, he spoke again on the issue: “Prioritisation of groups for the COVID-19 vaccine shall be based on two considerations — occupational hazards and the risk of developing severe disease and increased mortality.”

• The minister has done well to indicate the government’s priorities at an early stage — a vaccine for mass use is, by most estimates, at least three months away.

• But in the coming weeks and months, as the government gives shape to its plans, narrowing down the priority list, it will need to answer more questions.

• For instance, if the strategy is to give precedence to healthcare workers, should doctors who deal with infectious diseases get the first shot?

• Or should nurses, ward attendants, ambulance drivers be higher on the priority list?

• Among those with comorbidities, should the health of the elderly be secured first, or do relatively younger people, who need to travel more, have a more urgent claim?

• Should those who live in slums and congested areas get priority?

• Choosing from among different sets of vulnerabilities is never easy.

• It is important, therefore, that the government opens the conversation to a variety of specialists — epidemiologists, ethicists, economists, patient groups, social scientists.

Deliberative procedure:

• The WHO’s preliminary guidelines for vaccine allocation underline the significance of a deliberative procedure.

• WHO says- “Employ best available scientific evidence, expertise, and significant engagement with relevant stakeholders for vaccine prioritisation”

• Also, using transparent, accountable and unbiased processes to engender trust in prioritisation decisions”.

• A consensus also seems to be emerging globally that allocation strategies should be informed by wide-ranging discussions.

• In the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asked the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) to develop a plan “to fairly allocate” a vaccine.

• NASEM reportedly conducted a public hearing in the first week of September before releasing its first draft.


• The Drugs Controller General of India said, last month, that it would approve a vaccine “of at least 50% efficacy”.

• Given the magnitude of the crisis, this low bar is understandable.

• But a less than 100% sure inoculation could mean that plans to track the initial recipients will have to be developed in tandem with the allocation strategy.

• It’s important that a range of specialists are called in to join the dots, think through the difficult issues.


Prelims Questions:

Q.1) With reference to the Indraprastha Gas Limited, consider the following statements:

1. IGL was incorporated in 1998, to take over and operate the Delhi City Gas Distribution Project from GAIL for laying a network of gas distribution pipelines in Delhi.

2. The company started as a joint venture between GAIL, Bharat Petroleum and the Govt of Delhi.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?
(a) 1 only
(b) 2 only
(c) Both 1 and 2
(d) Neither 1 nor 2

Answer: C

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