hen the head of India’s coronavirus taskforce, Dr VK Paul, said June 5 that the country has overtaken the United States in terms of the number of people who have received their first shot of a Covid-19 vaccine, he was rather too economical on truth. His claim, made at a time when the country is virtually facing a vaccine famine, sounds like a crude joke bordering on cynical unconcern for millions helplessly running from pillar to post for one jab. People in the age group from 18 to 44 years are being given a raw deal with the Centre refusing to provide vaccines free as it did in the case of people above 45 years. Private hospital chains are on an average charging between `900 and `1,500 per shot. It is so easy to reel off statistics the way Dr Paul did that the number of people getting at least one dose of vaccine in India is 17.2 crore. (According to latest government figures, the number of vaccinated has increased to 22.9 crore).
Numbers can be interpreted to suit different interests of different people and agencies. It is one thing to score political brownie points with statistics and another to reassure people groaning under the pandemic with concrete actions. Certainly, it is not the time for any government official to try and fool people with jugglery of figures as has been done by Dr Paul. A report released by the International Monetary Fund states the US and the UK have already inoculated 35-40 per cent of their population, while more that 50 per cent have received at least one jab. India’s vaccination record so far is about 3 per cent. Comparing the number of people in India with that of the US or the UK to claim achievement in vaccination is illogical as the population sizes greatly differ.
The other things that Dr Paul said were pious platitude and inane lecture. He reminded the people “not to act carelessly as Covid-19 cases dip.” What the country desperately needs now is ramping up of vaccine production with speed which, no doubt, is easier said than done. It is also not difficult to understand why the government has gone on an overdrive in releasing statistics to create the impression that it is doing reasonably well in fighting the pandemic. The Supreme Court last week put the government on the mat by asking tough questions on its vaccination policy with the Amicus Curiae Jaideep Gupta graphically presenting production figures to demonstrate that the government’s claim to vaccinate the entire population by the end of December or January, 2022 has no substance. The apex court has given the government two weeks time to submit a report on the money being spent and the quantum of vaccines the Centre has procured and distributed. The government, it seems, is trying to build its case by dishing out figures to buttress its claim of good performance.
Simple arithmetic will show the dire situation the country is in. The country needs 190 crore vaccine doses for herd immunity is what we are told. If 70 per cent of the population is to be vaccinated, `10,400 crore will be required at the rate of `400 per dose. Against this the Centre has allocated `35,000 crore for buying vaccines. There are currently two locally-made vaccines for the coronavirus: Oxford Astra-Zeneca developed Covishield made by the Serum Institute of India (SII) and ICMR developed Covaxin by Bharat Biotech. Covishield constitutes 90 per cent of the locally available vaccines.
The government said in May that earlier this year it had ordered a total of 356 million doses of the two vaccines to be available for use up until July but not all of these doses have been delivered. The Sputnik V vaccine, which was approved for use in April, is also now available exclusively at Apollo Hospital chain, with three million doses supplied by Russia. SII’s projections include 750 million doses of Covishield. Bharat Biotech plans to produce 550 million doses of Covaxin. The SII recently told the government they would produce 100 million doses per month from June onwards and Bharat Biotech’s capacity would be boosted to 80 million doses per month from August.
After much dillydallying, the government has begun negotiations with US producers – Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson- for additional supplies. But these makers have said they can discuss availability only by October this year. That too if India enacts an indemnity clause.
In such a bleak situation the nation also hears reports of malfunctioning ventilators provided by the Centre to the states under the different schemes, including PM CARES. The courts have taken note of a large number of complaints of ventilators not working when patients were gasping for lack of oxygen. The Central exercise seems directed at passing the blame to the states which in some cases have allegedly left the devices unused in warehouses.
The Centre needs to stop taking refuge in excuses and hiding its colossal failure in fighting the pandemic. A lot of time has already been lost and lakhs of families ruined. The spectre of the third wave is looming large when babies in the cradle, toddlers and urchins would also come in the death grip of the lethal virus. The government must act fast, no blame-game would save the nation.