On Saturday, Shreeya Sinha, the Editorial Director of the New York Times (NYT), took to Twitter to cast aspersions about India’s Coronavirus vaccination drive and the political diplomacy of the Indian government.
While replying to the tweet of Wall Street Journal (WSJ) correspondent Eric Bellman, who praised India’s vaccination diplomacy, she claimed that her 65-year-old parents in India could not get vaccinated. “Meanwhile my parents over 65 in India can’t get a vaccine. What’s the value of human life for its own citizens vs political diplomacy?” Sinha asked.
However, on being questioned about the logical fallacy in her tweet by a Twitter user (@Dhaval343), the Editorial Director of the New York Times quickly deleted her tweet.
A day earlier, Sinha had shared an article by the New York Times titled, “The Newest Diplomatic Currency: Covid-19 vaccines”. The article claimed, “For now, the Indian government has room to donate abroad, even after months when cases soared and the economy was hobbled, and even as it has vaccinated just a tiny percent of its 1.3 billion people. Part of the reason for a lack of backlash: the Serum Institute is producing at a faster rate than India’s inoculation program can currently handle, leaving extras for donations and exports.”
Using the article as the foundation for her argument, the journalist said, “My parents are examples of this: Indians waiting for the vaccine while the government sends them abroad for diplomatic currency.”
The logical fallacy in the claims of the New York Times journalist
The New York Times journalist Shreeya Sinha tried to insinuate that the government is deliberately not vaccinating a section of its citizens to gain a diplomatic edge in the world, essentially claiming that the Indian government is giving away vaccines to the world while not using those vaccines for its own people. However, nothing can be further from the truth. It must be mentioned that the Serum Institute of India (SII), which has been producing the Covishield vaccine (developed by Oxford- AstraZeneca) had initially produced supplied 50 million doses to the Indian government.
Dr Suresh Jadhav, Executive Director (SII) had earlier said, “Serum has a stock of another 50-60 million doses. It is also producing at a monthly average of 50-60 million which will go up to 100 million a month by April.” When the immunisation programme kickstarted on January 16 this year, the SII had supplied 11 million doses to vaccinate 6.3 million healthcare workers.
Although the Serum Insitute of India can produce vaccines at a faster rate than they can be administered to individuals, the existing infrastructure cannot handle the immunisation of every individual at once. The Indian government, therefore, chose a phase-by-phase approach to vaccinate the large population in the country. In the first phase, the government decided to vaccinate only the health professionals. In the second phase, the frontline workers were administered the vaccine.
The government prioritised the vaccines for healthcare and frontline workers, as they are at the highest risk of contracting the deadly virus. The Modi government had announced that in the third phase, starting in March, the elderly individuals above the age of 50 will be inoculated. Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said, “After completing the two phases, the third phase is expected to begin at any time in March. In this phase, every citizen above the age of 50 will get vaccinated. The process will begin in any week of March. It’s difficult to give an exact date, but it will begin in any time of the month — third or fourth week of March.”
So far, a whopping 82.85 lac people have been administered the vaccine. The expansion of India’s inoculation programme saw the government place order for additional 10 million doses of Covisheild from Serum Institute in India and 4.5 million doses from Bharat Biotech. The Modi government plans on vaccinating 300 million (30 crores) people by August this year. Due to the extra production of vaccines by SII that the government cannot put to use for its own citizens immediately, it has decided to help other countries by exporting the extra vaccine doses.
India has successfully lept forward on the diplomatic front by supplying vaccine doses to Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Mauritius, Seychelles, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Brazil, Morocco and other countries. This vaccine diplomacy has not only helped save countless lives of people in other countries but has helped India emerge as a true global leader. As such, India’s decision to not vaccinate the senior citizens right away and export vaccines instead to different countries was not a matter of choice, as claimed by the New York Times’ Editorial Director.
Is April the expiry date of Covishield vaccines?
Earlier, a Congress troll named Saket Gokhale had tried to cast aspersions about the was the expiry date of Covisheild vaccines. Gokhale had suggested that the vaccines would be useless after April. Mia Mala, who is associated with the Bhekisisa Health Journalism Centre, informed that SII had only 6 months worth of data to work with and as the expiry date specified the month of April. It can now be extended, given that the data is now available for more than 6 months.
“We have data for 6 months, but many vaccines last for longer, they stay stable for a year. But because the Covid vaccines are so new, we don’t have data for 12 months because they haven’t existed for 12 months. So even though it may say expiry date of April, that April expiry date could be postponed to May because we now have data that this vaccine says stable for longer than 6 months,” Mia remarked. Her comments came at the backdrop of South Africa’s decision to put the Covisheild vaccines on hold.
The South African Health Ministry officials have now reached out to SII to inquire if expiry dates could be extended. Assuming that the vaccines expire in April as Gokhale suggested, SII has the capability to produce millions of new vaccine doses.