Shortage of manpower could jeopardise vaccine drives
The planned inoculation of two crore people against Covid-19 every month starting from October, along with that of 2.5 to 3 crore children annually under different immunisation campaigns, will be quite an impossible task for the government's workforce commissioned under the Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI), health officials have warned. They said the workforce and logistics under the EPI were already overtaxed—mainly due to their active involvement in the nationwide Covid-19 vaccination campaign, making the planned inoculation an insurmountable task for them.
Besides regular immunisation of children, around 15,000 field-level EPI health assistants in the country have been assigned for Covid-19 inoculation. Additionally, they are having to collect samples for tests, enter data into the system, administer jabs, and ensure that people are quarantining at home. The tasks they are having to do are already a huge burden—especially in the absence of any additional manpower. Ultimately, this will hamper both the Covid-19 vaccination drive as well as the regular countrywide immunisation of children against other diseases.
That is not a scenario anyone would like to see. Given our enormous struggles with the Covid-19 pandemic over the last year and a half, it has become clear that we must do everything to protect the population from the disease—including and especially through mass vaccination. At the same time, it is essential not to become careless about other diseases, which is why the authorities must not neglect the regular immunisation of children in the country. However, as the health officials have expressed, achieving both with the current resources is a pipe dream.
We have previously seen the government's mass vaccination drive against Covid-19 stumble and stall due to vaccine shortage. Now we cannot afford another botched drive due to a lack of manpower. That is why we call on the government to immediately recruit more healthcare workers under the EPI. In that regard, we understand that the Directorate General of Health Services has submitted a proposal to recruit 11,500 health assistants to the Ministry of Health. The proposal should be reviewed and approved—with any necessary changes—on an urgent basis. The government should also consider setting up a dedicated Covid-19 cell to keep the government's vaccination programme running smoothly, and to also ensure that none of the vaccines that the government is planning to procure ends up in the black market.