What is the main focus of the India Covid task force that you chair?
When the Government of India was preparing to roll out the Covid vaccine, Rotary leadership in India quickly offered to partner it in Covid vaccination, and I was invited to chair the Rotary India Covid Task Force. Further to meetings with officials from the Union Health Ministry and Niti Aayog, the following focus areas were identified:
- Creating awareness on the Covid vaccine
- Social mobilisation
- Overcoming pockets of public resistance caused by misinformation
- Providing logistical support where required.
What role has Indian Rotarians played in Covid vaccination; can we have an estimate of the numbers?
Rotary clubs all over India have played a huge role in the Covid vaccination drive. They started out by organising rallies and online seminars and made great use of social media to promote vaccination. Once the drive started, Rotary clubs have helped in providing cold chain, transport for the vaccine, and organised vaccination camps across the country. By my estimate, close to 2 million Indians have been vaccinated at camps organised by Rotary clubs.
Besides this, Rotarians have also helped augment Covid hospitals’ capacity and provided oxygen concentrators to various hospitals, installed oxygen plants, provided medicines to the needy, managed call centres to provide information about the availability of beds, oxygen concentrators, medicines, etc.
What are the main challenges that India faces in getting its population vaccinated given our huge population? What more can Rotary do to help?
The first hurdle was getting sufficient supplies of the vaccine as our sheer numbers are quite overwhelming. After all, ours is a huge population, which is densely concentrated in cities. With over half the population having got at least one jab of the vaccine, and lockdown being phased out, the challenge lies in ensuring that people do not let their guard down. Maintaining sufficient physical distancing, avoiding physical meetings and using face masks and sanitisers must continue.
Rotary clubs must also help the state governments in ensuring that people in rural areas get their vaccination at the earliest.
You played a huge role in Rotary’s efforts in helping to eradicate polio from India. Do you find any similarities or differences in the Covid vaccination drive?
Polio vaccination had encountered resistance from certain pockets of the Muslim community. We overcame that by enlisting the support of religious leaders who convinced their flock to accept the vaccination. This was a tipping point in the polio eradication drive which finally led to India being declared polio-free.
This time around, the Ulema Committee, of which I am still chairman, was brought on board very early to ensure that Covid vaccination did not meet any resistance from the Muslim community.
One challenge is that the polio vaccine had to be given only to children below the age of 5. Covid vaccine needs to be administered to every adult Indian. That is a staggering figure, and our government has done a tremendous job so far.
But we have some way to go before we can breathe easy again. However, Rotary’s experience in polio vaccination gives us the confidence that India will walk free from Covid very soon.
It will not be out of place here to mention that the entire Covid task force is dedicated to the cause and is fully supported by our senior RI leaders. The district and club leadership is doing tremendous work in assisting the local governments to get rid of this dreadful virus. God willing, we will succeed in making India Covid-free soon.