Vax milestone and a K-shaped problem

Topics BS Opinion | Vaccine | Vaccination

One of the pandemic’s consequences is the acceleration of economic disparity. The design of India’s vaccination policy will further accentuate this. Vaccine penetration is much higher in upper-income deciles.  Out of India’s population of about 1.3 billion, 78 per cent, or just over 1 billion, are adults eligible for vaccination. Around 75 per cent of the eligible —say, 750 million — are officially reckoned to have received at least one dose, which means 250 million are unprotected.  The official claim is that “nearly” 30 per cent.....
One of the pandemic’s consequences is the acceleration of economic disparity. The design of India’s vaccination policy will further accentuate this. Vaccine penetration is much higher in upper-income deciles. 

Out of India’s population of about 1.3 billion, 78 per cent, or just over 1 billion, are adults eligible for vaccination. Around 75 per cent of the eligible —say, 750 million — are officially reckoned to have received at least one dose, which means 250 million are unprotected. 

The official claim is that “nearly” 30 per cent of the eligible are double-jabbed. This leads to a discrepancy of about 50 million between the two official claims. If 750 million have received one jab, simple arithmetic says just 250 million are double-jabbed. But if 300 million have been double-jabbed, no more than 700 million have received at least one dose. 

The vaccination campaign’s “smart design” made it hard for people without smartphone access to sign up, though Cowin allowed for multiple signups with a single number. Smartphone penetration is 450-500 million and concentrated in higher-income groups. The upper income bias is clear there. 

A second upper income skew lies in the “public-private” nature of delivery. Government centres offered vaccination for free, and delivered 75 per cent of the shots, while private centres charging fees delivered 25 per cent. Most government servants and public sector employees, who are not lower-income, got vaccinated at government centres. Corporations picked up much of the private quota for their employees, who were largely not lower-income.  Hence, higher income groups, let’s say the top three income deciles, are reasonably covered. But the lower seven income deciles are largely uncovered. There would also be inevitable urban-rural biases of course, due to logistics. 

Now, all the credible epidemiological projections suggest there will be a Third Wave that lasts till at least mid-2022. The severity of that will vary, depending on herd immunity via vaccine coverage and prior infection, and also the possible emergence of new “breakthrough mutations”. 

Lower-income groups will be far more vulnerable in the Third Wave, whenever that arrives. Their emergence from the lockdown and return to employment will entail higher risks for them, and everyone else too. 

Apart from broadening coverage of unvaccinated adults, there are several major challenges going forward. These include administration of second-doses, and then third-dose boosters as immunity wears off, alongside the task of vaccination of under-18s, and the research needed to develop new vaccines to cope with new variants. It remains to be seen how effectively these challenges are met. Income biases leading to a K-shaped vaccination coverage may well be sustained through these future phases, unless there are radical changes to vaccine policy. 

India already had a very K-shaped economy, prior to the pandemic. By end-2020, the top 1 per cent held 40.5 per cent of assets, according to the annual Credit Suisse Global Wealth report. The share of assets held by the rich increased in 2020, though the economy contracted. The GINI Coefficient, a measure of income equality, stayed at a very high 82.3. (A zero GINI would indicate perfectly even distribution). 

Unemployment spiked in the April-June 2020 lockdowns and employment has still not recovered to 2018-19 levels. Employment losses were mostly in the unorganised sector, which had already been hit by successive blows like demonetisation and a poorly-designed goods and services tax before the pandemic. 

This affected lower income groups more. That skew will show up in poverty data once compiled. Corporate results through the last four quarters also indicates the organised sector (which is higher-income) has made a much faster recovery than the unorganised sector (which is lower-income and a much larger generator of employment).  

There’s a further looming, long-term worry. Higher-income groups with smartphone and broadband coverage have far better access to remote learning. Hence, education, which was inherently K-shaped, has become even more so. This reduces the likely future productivity and much-vaunted demographic dividend of a young workforce.  

These issues are blindingly obvious and dealing with them would be difficult in any case. But a start could be made by acknowledging them, and trying to face them honestly. But even a bare acknowledgment is conspicuously absent in the self-congratulatory tone accompanying a billion jabs.



Dear Reader,


Business Standard has always strived hard to provide up-to-date information and commentary on developments that are of interest to you and have wider political and economic implications for the country and the world. Your encouragement and constant feedback on how to improve our offering have only made our resolve and commitment to these ideals stronger. Even during these difficult times arising out of Covid-19, we continue to remain committed to keeping you informed and updated with credible news, authoritative views and incisive commentary on topical issues of relevance.

We, however, have a request.

As we battle the economic impact of the pandemic, we need your support even more, so that we can continue to offer you more quality content. Our subscription model has seen an encouraging response from many of you, who have subscribed to our online content. More subscription to our online content can only help us achieve the goals of offering you even better and more relevant content. We believe in free, fair and credible journalism. Your support through more subscriptions can help us practise the journalism to which we are committed.

Support quality journalism and subscribe to Business Standard.

Digital Editor

Business Standard is now on Telegram.
For insightful reports and views on business, markets, politics and other issues, subscribe to our official Telegram channel
Key stories on business-standard.com are available to premium subscribers only.

Already a premium subscriber?

Subscribe to get an across device (Website, Mobile Web, Iphone, Ipad, and Android Phone applications) access to Premium content, Breaking News alerts, Industry Newsletters, Stock and Corporate news alerts, access to Archives and a lot more.

Read More on

BS OPINION

VACCINE

VACCINATION

CORONAVIRUS VACCINE

OPINION

COLUMNS


Most Read

Markets

Companies

Opinion

Latest News

Todays Paper

News you can use