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Ex-CEO of Rajya Sabha TV draws a ludicrous comparison between free vaccinations in the past with COVID-19 immunisation: Here’s why he is wrong

While smallpox, polio were eradicated because of vaccination, the vaccination drives also took years for us to achieve the goal. Comparing the vaccination drives of other diseases with Chinese coronavirus is like comparing apples to oranges.

India is one of the few countries leading the global battle against the deadly coronavirus that first emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019 and has so far affected more than 117 million people across the world and caused over 2.59 million deaths.

No sooner did the coronavirus sweep the world, Indian organisations, in collaboration with foreign institutes, initiated efforts to develop a vaccine that could stop its relentless march. Pune-based Serum Institute of India won the license of manufacturing Oxford’s AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. Another Hyderabad-based organisation, Bharat Biotech, indigenously developed another vaccine to tame the rampaging pandemic.

Earlier in January 2021, almost 14 months since COVID-19 emerged, the Indian drug regulatory body approved the emergency use of the two COVID-19 vaccines made in India. Days later, India commenced the first phase of its ambitious vaccination drive which included 3 crore healthcare workers and the front line workers.

On March 1, almost a month and a half after its first phase of vaccination drive, India entered the second phase of the drive when people above the age 60 and select people above the age of 45 who are suffering from underlying illnesses were eligible to get the vaccination at thousands of government and private vaccination centres across the country.

The vaccination drive has been a runaway success, with glowing reviews pouring in from across the country about the way the government has handled the immunisation campaign. Beneficiaries are to register themselves at the CoWIN platform or Aarogya Setu app to schedule their vaccine appointment. Private hospitals were allowed to charge up to Rs 250 per dose of the COVID-19 vaccine while the jabs were free of cost at the government centres.

However, some inveterate detractors, consumed by the anti-government hatred and perturbed by the success of the vaccination drive, tried to undermine the vaccination drive by nitpicking about the nominal price charged for the vaccine. One such individual was ex-CEO and Editor-in-chief of Rajya Sabha TV Gurudeep Singh Sappal.

In a post uploaded on popular microblogging website Twitter, Sappal drew a ludicrous comparison between the vaccination drive for COVID-19 with immunisation programme run for other diseases such as Smallpox, BCG, Polio, DPT, Measles and OPV.

“As Covid vaccination progresses, let remember once again that entire India had: Smallpox vaccine free, BCG free, DPT free, OPV free, Measles vaccine free, Polio vaccine free. This was done even when India was poorer. Was done as a duty, without propaganda & without high petrol taxes!” Sappal tweeted.

Sappal draws an absurd parallel between vaccinations of dwindling diseases with that of a raging global pandemic

Besides accusing the Centre of using the COVID-19 vaccination for propaganda purposes, Sappal insinuates that the immunisation programme for the coronavirus pandemic should have been free of cost just like the government had undertaken vaccination campaigns for Smallpox, Measles, DPT, Polio and others.

For starters, it is profoundly foolish to compare the vaccination programs carried out for diseases that are on the ebb across the world with an immunisation drive launched to curb a raging global pandemic. Moreover, when free vaccination programs for the above-mentioned diseases were launched in India, most parts of the world had already gotten rid of those maladies. They were not rampaging ailments ready to engulf the entire world as is the case with COVID-19. In fact, they were dwindling infections prevalent largely among the developing nations.

In most cases, only after the developed world had administered the vaccines to all of its citizens and had completely eliminated the diseases, the surplus doses of the vaccines were doled out to developing nations under various programmes undertaken by global health organisations such as the World Health Organisation.

In essence, vaccines that came for free or at subsidised rates were distributed by the governments free of cost to end the epidemic that was defeated in most parts of the world. In any case, the Centre is offering the vaccines for free at the government centres. Only private hospitals and centres are charging a token amount of Rs 250 to get the vaccine jab. If the centre is to bankroll the vaccination drive at private centres, it is only going to put a burden on the government treasury, which is under tremendous pressure due to the coronavirus-induced lockdown.

And if the government had financed the immunisation campaign at private centres, Sappal would have perhaps cribbed about the growing fiscal deficit that the decision would have caused. There is no rhyme or reason to his criticism. The tweet by Sappal was nothing but a prejudiced rant, made by a Congress loyalist who is still finding it hard to come to terms with the fact that a non-Congress regime at the helm at the Centre.

Further, carrying out mass immunisation against a new disease which has been declared a pandemic and carrying out immunisation programmes against diseases for years are two different things. While smallpox, polio were eradicated because of vaccination, the vaccination drives also took years for us to achieve the goal. For fighting COVID, the scalability has to be increased on war-footing. Comparing the vaccination drives of other diseases with Chinese coronavirus is like comparing apples to oranges.

Sappal’s tirade against paid vaccination drives smacks off his socialist bias

Furthermore, the diatribe against paid vaccination drive by Sappal reeks of socialism as he suggests the government to subsidise free vaccines given at private vaccination centres. After the economic implications endured by the central government due to the coronavirus-induced lockdown, Sappal wants the government to pay for the vaccines as well, even when the price of a single dose is as low as Rs 250 and which are already free of cost at the government centres and government hospitals.

For decades, socialism in the country has been glorified while profit-making, especially in a noble profession like medical is viewed with great disapproval. For India to keep up with the demands of the twenty-first century, the nation should stop romanticising the idea of socialism that has been the undoing of most of the socialist countries in the world. If India wants its doctors and medical institutes to be amongst the foremost in the world, they should be encouraged to strive for excellence and profits.

For more than seventy years, India has dabbled with the idea of socialism, which has only exacerbated its inherent problems instead of solving them. The Narendra Modi government has shed this romanticism with socialism and has conveyed in no uncertain terms that profit-making and capitalism are not evils as vilified by the previous regimes. Instead, they are a sine qua non to India’s transformation into a developed nation.

To compare vaccination for an active global pandemic with a heavily subsidised immunisation programme for dwindling afflictions is akin to comparing apples with oranges. The vaccine for COVID-19 was developed a few months after the virus was detected. It took an incredible amount of financial resources as well as medical prowess to develop an efficacious vaccine to combat a galloping pandemic.

Indian doctors, medical institutes, research organisations and hospitals, both public and private, need to be credited for this spectacular achievement. Unlike in the past, when the country lacked the skills and resources to pioneer vaccines on its own and had to rely on the largesse of the developed world, the Indian doctors and scientists in 2020 demonstrated their superior skills and talent by being amongst the frontrunners to develop the COVID-19 vaccines.

So, if the government has allowed private hospitals and vaccination centres to charge a nominal price for the COVID-19 jabs, there is nothing wrong with it, and whiners can whine as much as they want. Sappal, on the other hand, should find better ways to criticise the vaccination drive that has so far been successful and not let his pathological hatred for the Modi government overpower his good senses.

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Jinit Jain
Engineer. Writer. Learner.

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