The most disgusting sight I have seen on the news recently is the politicians from the opposition making statements opposing the two vaccines, made in India. First, they doubted the vaccines in terms of efficacy, then they created suspicion in the minds of the common people about the adverse effects of the vaccine.
The elected Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh made a statement that he will not allow Covaxin, the vaccine developed by an Indian Company, Bharat Biotech, supported by ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research) and NIV (National Institute of Virology), launched in early July, 2020. Immediately after the announcement was made, the vultures landed on Bharat Biotech in full force. The Print got a PhD student to raise doubts about the claims of the Covaxin being indigenous, all the claims being speculative.
Almost immediately, vaccine hesitancy was promoted by the opposition politicians. Shashi Tharoor went as far as to say that approval to Covaxin was premature and could be ‘dangerous’. No wonder that this obstructed the phase 1 rollout when it was being given to the frontline Corona Warriors and the most vulnerable population. While the Central government continued to write to states, the states with the highest caseload and death counts, kept on attacking the vaccination. Those who visited the vaccination centres around those days would, like me, agree that the centres were mostly vacant and bored paramedics were sitting waiting for the people to come for the vaccination. By the time, a rude jolt woke the states up, and made people suddenly note that these politicians who were gathering thousands of professional protestors around Delhi from Punjab were creating a death zone around Delhi, it was already too late.
Once the deaths started mounting, first from Maharashtra, then in Delhi and the calamity spread like wildfire across UP, India’s most populous state, those in opposition started ditching their own hesitancy and everyone from Akhilesh Yadav to Rakesh Tikait started taking the vaccine. A horrible trend of oxygen and essential drugs hoarding by the rich and mighty began and philanthropy became a tool for politics. I still wonder as to why those who had oxygen sources with them, did not surrender them to the hospital so that they could give it to their patients without discrimination.
The acute shortage of oxygen killed many by the time we realised that while Delhi CM, Arvind Kejriwal went around flooding the media with advertisements, he did precious little to build a supply chain for oxygen or establish oxygen plants in the city allotted by the Centre. Not to mention, the fake bravado of having ample oxygen in Delhi fell on its fate. When the dust settles, and Cremation pyres run cold, history will not judge these politicians kindly.
In a panic, they started demanding that the Central Government speed up the vaccination process and allow the states to manage it. Rahul Gandhi demanded the decentralisation of the vaccines, and the rest of the opposition followed. Once they realised that at the source itself there is a shortage of vaccines, they once again tried to push the obligation towards the centre.
This was the result of the delay in ordering with Indian vaccine-makers like Covaxin and SII’s Covishield. Arvind Kejriwal, having withdrawn his obnoxious advertisements during the worst of the pandemic, went back to attacking the Government, after briefly making vague claims of having thought about placing the order, wanting to place the order and about to place the order.
Another absurd government was in Maharashtra, which contributed to 30% or more of overall deaths in India, from a state half the size of Uttar Pradesh. They came out with a ‘global tender’, with totally silly clauses for a penalty, which had all the insane clauses meant to punish the supplier except maybe, public flogging and guillotine. It was a process bound to fail from the word go. While it dawned on them that it was not out of evil intent that the Narendra Modi government proposed phased vaccination, but it was merely conscious of limited sources of medicine. India had exported 6 Crores of Vaccines under global obligations, as was clearly explained by the EAM when he said that we cannot expect Foreign nations to provide us with the know-how and raw material to make vaccines while blocking the vaccines to them. But when passions are running high, politicians who have a lot to hide as far as their own incompetence was concerned, find it easier to create so much noise that no sane question can be asked of them.
WHO recommended a phased rollout, for unlike Communist China on a long mark, thankfully the world does not measure human life by its productivity and commercial contribution to the society. India followed the COVAX guideline, launching phase 1 of vaccination with a priority group of elders and Covid warriors. The same model is followed by most nations.
Where do we stand vis-a-vis other Countries?
Even after the worst possible and the most destructive stage of the Pandemic has just settled down, India has seen much lesser deaths, even though, when someone has lost a dear one, like myself, numbers do not matter. The fact remains that my father, who I lost, remained a nationalist till the last and appreciative of the motherland which came from the abject poverty of decades to hold the dying son in comfort, under the Sari, however, torn it might be. He would want to write this so that those who hate India do not get a free run to malign it. The fact that they are now comparing India now to developed nations is in itself illustrative of the fact about how far we have travelled from being a socialist, license-raj nation putting Gold on the mortgage in the 90s to now when we are at the forefront of Global war against this Chinese-Origin Virus.
The pandemic has been cruel to everyone across the Globe. In sheer numbers, the US has lost 5.85 Lakh people in a Population of 33.3 Crores, Brazil with a population of around 21.26 Crores have lost 4.49 Lakh people, and India with a Population of 137 Crore has lost 3.11 Lakh people. Much has been said about the manipulation in the number of death, but it can be as much be true for Cuomo of New York. Even that accounted for, one must consider the fact that most of the countries with more than India’s fatality numbers have way better healthcare resources, lower population density (an important factor for a highly contagious disease) and an overall population around or less than the population of Uttar Pradesh.
UK has three approval vaccines- Pfizer-BioNTech, Oxford-AstraZeneca (Covishield), and Moderna.
US has approved three vaccines- Pfizer BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson and Johnson (Janssen)
The Vaccination started in December 2020, announced to the world by President Trump.
India has approved three vaccines- Covaxin, Covishield and Sputnik
UK has thus far vaccinated 6.2 Crore People. UK started vaccination in December 2020.
US has vaccinated 28.77 Crore People, having started in December 2020.
India started vaccination on 16th of January, 2021, and has vaccinated 20 Crore People (Reference: OurWorldInData.org )
Global Availability of Vaccine in H1, 2021 is 7.2 Billion Doses, expected to be scaled up to 15 Billion Doses.
Both SII and Bharat Biotech were offered additional funding of $400 Mn and 210 Mn respectively by the Government of India to boost production. In addition, local manufacturing tie-ups for Russian approved vaccine, Sputnik V was approved. Current predictions on Vaccine Delivery are as under:
SII: 9.5 Crore
Bharat Biotech: 6.5 Crore
BiologicalE: 3 Cr
Dr. Reddy: 1.56 Cr
Cadilla: 5 Crore
Gennova: 6 Crore
This totals up to 32.5 crore doses. Much noise has been created about India suffering due to an acute shortage of vaccine because it is not letting other vaccines in, apart from the three approved ones. Most of the political circus revolves around Pfizer, particularly with AAP leaders having turned shameless lobbyist for the Pharma giant. While they opposed Emergency approvals for Indian manufactured vaccines (on which the Government could anyway have taken action in the event of any disaster arising out of the vaccine’s adverse effect), they are lobbying hard to bring in Pfizer without Bridging trials.
Articles have been written quoting the same person who claimed fear on emergency approval of Covaxin, seeking the demand to drop bridging trials. Bridging trials are meant to evaluate the safety and efficacy of a particular ethnicity. When the strange peak of the pandemic in India happens while countries as indisciplined and as densely populated with even poorer infrastructure are less impacted by the virus whose origin and nature is still confusing people, it is important to do bridging trials, more so when all other Vaccine makers have agreed to it. It seems like the lobbying money spent by Pfizer in India is forcing it to act strangely. And it has been acting strangely in other countries too.
For instance, they sought Military Bases as collateral in Argentina and Africa to protect themselves for future claims against adverse effects and indemnify themselves. They have sought similar indemnity protection in India. Fortunately, the Government has stood unto such bullying even in the face of force brought in by the political opposition in India at their behest. Let us not be fooled by those who are lobbying for Pfizer who are working hard to make us believe that placing an order on Pfizer circumventing all rules will somehow save us all. Let us understand that Australia which has already placed the order on Pfizer for 4 Crore doses is expecting 2 Crore doses post October 2021 and remaining some time in mid-2022.
We have come this far, we will wade through the darkness and come as a winner. In the second wave, a lot of efforts are being taken by sincere governments, like that of Uttar Pradesh to improve the infrastructure. Steps are also being taken by states who are serious about the matter to ramp up vaccinations by placing orders instead of daydreaming about it like the Delhi Government or trying to threaten the vaccine manufacturer like the Maharashtra Government. The Maharashtra Government went to the town claiming to be the ‘first Municipality in the world’ to float a global tender for vaccine, and put in absurd conditions like – Manufacturer to set up cold storage, No advance payment, fine if they fail to deliver.
In a seller market, plagued with global shortage, it has failed spectacularly as it was expected to and now the states who claimed to be able to do a better job than the Union of India, have come back demanding that the Centre may procure the vaccines. Which is all fine if they do it with some sincerity since as a citizen, we must get the vaccines we need, whether it is provided by the State Government or Centre. The problem here is that while they have pushed the entire envelope of healthcare towards the Narendra Modi government, there is nothing in their own behaviour that tells the citizens that they are prepared to play a constructive role now on, having endangered their citizens once earlier by not deploying the Ventilators sent by Centre under PMCARE, not properly organising the supply chain for Vaccines provide by the centre, by manipulating the media to keep the lid on Maharashtra numbers, by misleading people about oxygen situation in Delhi.
Having organised the death of so many citizens, particularly in Delhi and Maharashtra, they are back to their old devious games. Their only hope is that their collective conspiracy will somehow stick as a stigma on the Seventy Year old man who tirelessly keeps on working to save citizens. In spite of everything, we must thank those who keep the wheels of the economy rolling, oxygen plants being deployed, beds being created and vaccines being rolled out. We must also ask politicians and judiciary alike about the gatherings in the middle of pandemic ostensibly at the behest of farmers who have just received the biggest amounts from the State in recent time for their produce.
We must question the opposition parties who blatantly refused the BJP proposal of virtual rallies during Bihar Elections (Nine Parties oppose Election Commission Plan for Digital campaign in Bihar), we must also question the UP judiciary for forcing the Panchayat elections on the Yogi Government in the middle of a pandemic. We do need a proper supply of medicine, we do need oxygen supply, we do need our loved ones saved. But let us not lose our way in the vacuous arguments about vaccines.