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11 April, 2021 08:53:21 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 11 April, 2021 09:10:47 AM
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VACCINE POLITICS

KUMKUM CHADHA
VACCINE POLITICS

That the Modi led Government in India is top of the game in battling the Coronavirus is a given. Right from the lock down to vaccinating hundreds and thousands of its own people and exporting to countries abroad is by no measure an achievement that can or should be undermined.
To begin with the lockdown. Despite criticism and the brickbats that followed post migration, the Modi Government was firm that its decision to impose a lock down was, both, timely and necessary. When Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a lockdown suddenly, people were critical of the decision stating that  like demonetization, no time was given for  people to prepare. It is common knowledge , that in  issues like these, preparedness spells disaster. Tell people that the Government is going to discontinue some denominations of the currency, and they will undo the entire exercise by finding dubious means to either dispose off the money or trade it before the ban. Credence is lent to this by the fact that even after demonetization was announced, with less than three hours for people to absorb the “shock”, people had got around the system and put their money to use, be it buying jewellery or designer clothes. That night the malls and jewellery stores made a killing.

Using the same logic for the lock down, it would have been counterproductive if there was a gap between announcing the lockdown and actually imposing it because the panic that would have ensued would have cancelled whatever the gains that were expected to accrue from the lockdown. The threat of a lockdown would have resulted in people heading to their homes and thus spreading the infection faster than ever. That situation would have been nothing short of a disaster because the rapid spread when India was completely unprepared to meet the challenges of the virus would have resulted in body bags piling up and the Government completely unprepared to handle the crisis. While the lockdown gave a breather, it also helped the Government to prepare itself to meet the pressure from rising cases and equip itself to meet the challenge from its spread. In hindsight, the lockdown was timely and was able to somewhat leash the devil before it struck fatally.

The Opposition cried foul and there were critics badmouthing Modi and his government. The migrant crisis was the last straw and when teeming millions headed for home, many walking several hundred miles, it was an unprecedented situation. Knives were out yet again and Modi was the target.

But none of this cancels India’s remarkable record in battling the corona virus and whatever the critics might wish the nation to believe, the fact remains that the Modi government took the bull by the horns. It was in the forefront, battling the crisis and ensuring that the situation does not get out of hand. Were it not for the proactiveness of the Government India would have been in what is a god forbid situation.

But it did not stop there. The Centre, every time the cases went out of hand in the states, stepped in to do damage control and ensure that it did what it took to come to the rescue of the states battling a  panic situation be it shortage of beds or issues of testing. These were initial challenges and once again the credit solely is the Modi government’s which not only ramped up testing but worked overtime to ensure that there were no shortages either by way of beds or medical assistance.

But this is last year’s story when India was easily among those nations that managed the virus crisis rather well keeping in mind the mind-boggling numbers it was dealing with. Add to that the rural population which believed that “everything is in God’s hands” and thus gave a go-by to all norms including wearing masks and social distancing. The last in any case was a challenge given that in rural areas large families are closeted in a small room and there are community toilets. In many remote areas, these, too, are a pipe dream.

This year it was, till the second surge, a kind of a dream run. India was ahead of many other advanced countries to  come up with two vaccines and still counting. That apart, it hand-held lesser privileged countries and exported vaccines under its  Vaccine Maitri initiative.

Vaccine Maitri was rolled out  within days of India’s domestic vaccination programme. Aimed at  helping  its neighbours, the initiative  followed an assurance by Prime Minister Modi in his address to the UN General Assembly last year. Modi had then said that India’s vaccine production and delivery capacity will be used to help all humanity.

 Vaccine Maitri began with stepping in for India’s immediate neighbours, beginning with the  Maldives, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Mauritius and Seychelles. It then reached out to its extended neighbours especially those in West Asia. The next was the outreach to smaller and vulnerable countries where consignments were sent  to African and Caribbean nations. India’s initiative was lauded given that it exported to over 75 countries.

Bangladesh, an immediate neighbour, is among the major recipient of Covid vaccines from India till now. India supplied around 9 million doses of Covid vaccines to Bangladesh. Of this, 7 million doses were commercial supplies. Bangladesh got 2 million doses of vaccines as grant assistance on January 21. This was followed by additional 5 million and 2 million doses of commercial supplies on January 25 and February 22, respectively.

Morocco was the second major recipient during the period. India made commercial supplies of 2 million, 4 million and 1 million doses of the vaccine to that country on January 22, February 11 and February 24, respectively.

Brazil also received around 4 million doses of commercial supplies from India during January and February. The Brazilian President Jair M Bolsonaro took to Twitter on January 22 to thank India with a tweet with a picture of Hanuman carrying a mountain of Covid vaccine from India to Brazil.

But what is music to India’s ears is Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit comment after Dominica received 70,000 doses carted by an Indian aircraft: “I must confess” said Skerrit, “that I did not imagine that the prayers of my country would be  answered so swiftly”.

It was none other than External Affairs Minister S.Jaishanker who underlined the switch from ‘vaccine nationalism’ to promote internationalism and need for an  equitable distribution of the vaccine.

None of this however was without its share of controversies and while India earned kudos abroad, it was slammed within. Opposition parties and critics questioned the need for export when its own were not fully covered.

The Delhi government headed by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal asked the Centre to “vaccinate all” irrespective of age. As of now the vaccination  programme in India is age and co-morbidity specific. Apart from the controversies about which vaccine is better among the two so far available in India, there is a war of words about the vaccine shortage: the Government denying it and non BJP ruled states hammering it.

States like  Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Jharkhand, are complaining of a shortage of vaccines. In some states  vaccine centres shut early; some turned away people because supplies ran out. Some states like  Rajasthan, Uttarakhand and Assam said they only had supplies for the next few days. Some have warned that they would be forced to shut the centres if supplies are not replenished soon. It is in context that the export initiative is being questioned once again: Why export when there was not enough to meet domestic demands? is a question that is coming up time and again.

The Government on its part sees this as much ado about nothing. 

Union health minister Harsh Vardhan called for “an end to fear mongering”, and said that there were enough stocks and states were getting their deliveries on time. He also said that the furore about shortages was “politically motivated”. Particularly singling out Maharashtra, the Minister said: “I have seen statements made by public representatives in Maharashtra about shortage of vaccines. This is nothing but an attempt to divert attention from Maharashtra government’s repeated failures to control the spread of pandemic. The inability of Maharashtra government to act responsibly is beyond comprehension. To spread panic among the people is to compound the folly further.”

It may be mentioned here that there is a political slugfest going on between the Centre and the state government with the BJP demanding the dismissal of the Opposition ruled state Government on issues of corruption.

Politics apart, the fact remains that things did get tricky and somewhat out of hand on two counts: the transition from vaccine hesitancy to an enthusiastic response to get the jab and more importantly the second surge which is threatening to be more deadly than the first. Having said that India’s effort in vaccinating huge numbers, even though a small proportion looking at the overall population, is commendable. The nightmare ofcourse is the second surge, whose  severity is posing a challenge.

The Modi government is, undoubtedly, faced with an uphill task. Politics apart, as also the issue of whether the shortages are motivated,  the challenge is real. With cases rising by the minute and new strains being part of the virus, the Government needs to steer clear of controversies  and go about the business of ensuring that it does what needs to done be it by way of vaccination availability or checking the virus from spreading. Therefore when  Prime Minister Modi said those who want to do politics are doing it and  “I choose not to open my mouth”  makes complete sense. 

 

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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