hen India is fighting a grim battle against the second wave of Covid-19, here comes the shocking revelation from the fugitive Serum Institute of India (SII) chief Adar Poonawalla that the vaccine shortage will continue through July as the government didn’t anticipate in January the second wave would hit the country. The complacency stemmed from the decline in caseload.
A report in Financial Times quoted him as claiming that the SII couldn’t scale up its production of Covishield since there were no orders. The vaccine shortage will be felt even more acutely as the government has opened vaccination to all adults from May 1.
Poonawalla told the paper that he had been wrongly victimised. That apart, his decision to flee the country and seek refuge in the UK when the country has turned into hell with no one knowing whose turn it next is to be infected with the virus is a gross act against the country.
He has moved to the UK with his family for an “extended period” just in time before the foreign shores stopped entry of any Indian into the country.
If money launderers and frauds such as Vijay Mallya, Mehul Choksi, Nirav Modi, Lalit Modi et al had fled India to escape arrest for their economic offences, Poonawalla followed in their footsteps in a similar but much cleverer manner, blaming inability to withstand threats and pressures for supplying vaccines as he claimed in an interview to The Times, London. Interestingly, not only had the government paid him Rs 3,000 crore recently, he had also been accorded ‘Y’ category security by the Central government just days before he scooted from India. But, that was obviously not enough for him.
People afflicted with Covid are dying on the streets, in cars and inside and outside hospitals for lack of oxygen, vaccines and immunity boosting medicines. He must have found India to be too unsafe for his family and used his resources and contacts to find safety in the UK leaving millions of his countrymen in the jaws of death. Many other superrich have already chosen foreign shores to escape the scourge wiping out the population daily by thousands. Unfortunately, those still supporting Poonawalla and his ilk forget conveniently that common Indians like you or me do not enjoy the privilege of moving out of India when we are under great stress. We are compelled to grin and bear all hardships, even be prepared to die with an infection that this man could have helped us overcome with his vaccines.
Poonawalla has chosen to flee the country when less than 2 per cent of the population has been vaccinated against Covid and there is mad rush for the jabs. Poonawalla said he made the move because there was a grave threat to his life in India. “I don’t want to go back to that situation. Everything falls on my shoulders but I can’t do it alone…I don’t want to be in a situation where you are just trying to do your job, and just because you can’t supply the needs of X, Y or Z you really don’t want to guess what they are going to do,” he stated in the interview. His words sound so pathetic especially when they came in the wake of allegations of ruling BJP politicians cornering stocks of vaccines and other medicines Covid-hit patients need.
If his words tell the truth, they tend to confirm the allegations about blackmarketing and hoarding of vaccines. The alleged threats are likely since the SII’s Covishield is the more common vaccine in the country and Poonawalla has had to balance international contracts and domestic commitments in the past two months.
Earlier this month, the government had also given a “stressed” Poonawalla an advance loan of Rs 3,000 crore to ramp up production. According to some, this amount was too little too late. There has been widespread criticism of the Centre for monopolising procurement and distribution of the two vaccines – Covishield and Covaxin. When the situation went out of control, the Centre tried to find a scapegoat in the state governments and passed the blame for the collapse of health care system to save the people from the pandemic to the states. It also ‘liberalised’ its vaccine policy in a cynical manner allowing SII to sell Covishield directly to the states at a premium of `300 per dose as against the central government price of `150. With this policy, Poonawalla can sell half of his stock directly to the states and private hospitals, which has triggered a scramble for an already scarce vaccine supply. If his claim of undue pressure is to be believed, the reason for that is the Centre’s confusing purchase policy which set the hawks on him.
The Centre failed to anticipate the grave crisis India would plunge into. The government kept lulling itself into complacency and dished out a false narrative that Prime Minster Narendra Modi’s leadership was the best in the world and that India had “defeated Covid-19.” Publicity has been the corner stone of this government’s governance policy for which the country is now paying with the lives of its citizens.
The SII CEO’s admission betrays the smug confidence the government had. Instead of working on a war footing to fight the pandemic, they were relaxing with a misplaced self-confidence. “We’d struggled through 2020 to get everything ready. I thought I could put my feet up and take a vacation, but it’s been the exact opposite. It’s been chaotic,” Poonawalla said.
The brazenness of the government was shockingly in display first when it announced a 2-day ‘Tika Utsav’ celebration and again when it told the Supreme Court there is no shortage of oxygen when hospitals after hospitals are still sending SOS to governments for supply, people are dying without oxygen, cylinders are being sold at a premium in the open market and whatever foreign help is landing up, it is being immediately gobbled up by the central government.