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The four phases of global media coverage of India’s vaccination program

We are now in the fourth and final phase of media coverage of India’s vaccination program: silence. The hecklers have gone to find another stick to beat India with. They will be back. If we take them seriously, the joke is on us.

Yesterday, India administered a record 88 lakh vaccinations, taking the total number of vaccine doses to 55.47 crore. Since India is regularly hitting the 50 lakh plus mark, we are very likely to cross 56 crore doses today itself. Among these, there are 43.22 crore first doses, which means that 43.22 crore adults have already received one dose of the vaccine. With an estimated adult population of 94 crore, this means that approximately 46% of adults have already received one dose of vaccine.

For comparison, the US sits at just over 70% of their adult population getting one dose of vaccine. There is some distance between 46% and 70%, but the gap is closing rapidly. Barely a month ago, when the US was around 67%, India was only around 33% or so.

Now because there is a lot of finger pointing and heckling around India’s vaccination program, let me clarify something here. A number of people, especially those who cannot concede anything good about India, are asking why pick up this particular metric. First of all, why not pick up this metric? Is it making you nervous because you know it makes India look good?

Now let me give you my real rationalization. I did not choose this metric as a measure of success of a country’s vaccination program, the President of the United States did. President Biden set an official target for America to get 70% of their adults at least one dose of vaccine by July 4. In case you are wondering, they missed the target narrowly. Instead, the figure of 70% was achieved around Aug 4. So if you have any concerns about why one should pick up this particular metric, please direct your questions to The White House, located in Washington DC.

Okay, so we have given out over 55 crore vaccine doses so far. And that is no small achievement. And I assure you, the world is recognizing what an amazing feat this is. In fact, the world is applauding.

How do I know this? They didn’t say anything.

Yes, exactly. They didn’t say. They stopped talking about it. Because they know the speed and scale of India’s vaccination program is going to make them look silly. They have toned down their rhetoric, are looking to make an exit and are hoping everyone forgets. They don’t follow up, they just jump to the next excuse to condemn India. This is why I say they are not critics, but hecklers. The difference is all important. And it is crucial that we all understand the difference.

You can easily detect how the media reporting has changed over the last month or so. First, they used to talk about how few vaccine doses had been given. Then, as vaccinations rose quickly after June 21 (when the Central govt took over the entire program), they gradually switched to using percentages instead of absolute numbers. Because even a small percentage of India’s population, when laid out in absolute numbers, is enough to leave the reader wide eyed in amazement. Imagine the logistics of vaccinating 10 crore people. Yet, that is not even 10% of India’s population. On the other hand, the much acclaimed liberal Prime Minister of New Zealand is still struggling to vaccinate 50 lakh people, which is roughly half the population of Bangalore.

It is mysterious that percentages were never used when reporting daily new cases and covid deaths from India!

Anyway, the second phase of the media coverage was even more cowardly. This is when the media stopped counting first doses altogether. They would report only those who had received both doses, and that too only as a percentage. Bear in mind this was while they were still reporting on the US vaccination program in terms of percentage of people with one dose. That too, not all people, just the adults! For Western European countries such as the UK, they reported absolute number of people with first doses only. Take that.

If the second phase of media coverage was cowardly, the third was downright pathetic. At this point, the global media stopped reporting data from India altogether (whether absolute numbers, percentage vaccinated, percentage of adults vaccinated with one dose or both doses). What to do instead? Use adjectives. Just say that India’s vaccination drive is “slow” or “sputtering.” Don’t give any numbers at all.

You would think that no editor at a major global news organization could do something this embarrassing. You would be wrong. Grown ups with real media jobs waved through reports and columns on India’s vaccination drive, with only qualitative judgements and no data points at all! Then, presumably, they signed off on the paychecks for those who were shameless enough to write them.

We are now in the fourth and final phase of media coverage of India’s vaccination program: silence. The hecklers have gone to find another stick to beat India with. They will be back. If we take them seriously, the joke is on us.

 

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Abhishek Banerjeehttps://dynastycrooks.wordpress.com/
Abhishek Banerjee is a math lover who may or may not be an Associate Professor at IISc Bangalore. He is the author of Operation Johar - A Love Story, a novel on the pain of left wing terror in Jharkhand, available on Amazon here.  

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