he Centre April 19 decided to allow vaccination against Covid-19 for all above 18 years of age from May 1 on a day when the country reported a new record high of 2.73 lakh infections. In “a liberalised and accelerated Phase 3 strategy of Covid-19 vaccination,” vaccine manufacturers will supply 50 per cent of their monthly doses to the central government and will be free to supply the remaining 50 per cent doses to the states and in the open market at a pre-declared price. It may be noted that on April 17 Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik had written to PM Narendra Modi urging him to make vaccines available to all in the open market.
Transparency is what was lacking so far in the government’s vaccine policy. The country is reeling under the second wave of the pandemic which has assumed more devastating proportions than the first wave a year back. There are already complaints about partisan distribution of the two vaccines – Covaxin produced by Bharat Biotech and the Oxford-AstraZeneca’s Covishield by Serum Institute of India. Reports of attempts of fraudulent sale and hoarding for black-marketing are surfacing from some parts of the country. In other words, cynical and inhuman business is seemingly being made in the name of vaccination programme when hundreds of thousands are getting infected and thousands are dying.
Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal have written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on April 18 urging him to take immediate steps to make prompt and above board distribution of vaccine doses and other essential components of treatment to virus-hit people. It may be a coincidence that the three letters were sent on the same day, but they only underscore the gravity of the problem. Manmohan has urged Modi to come clean on the orders placed for vaccine doses and the strategy for their distribution. Mamata Banerjee sought the Centre’s permission to purchase vaccination doses directly with state funds and launch a massive free vaccination campaign in the state covering the entire population.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has asked for beds and oxygen cylinders for patients requesting the PM that 7,000 out of 10,000 beds in Delhi’s central government hospitals be reserved for Covid patients.
Distress calls are being sent to the Centre from different states of the country, including the worst-hit Maharashtra, complaining of severe shortage of oxygen. In a horribly limited response, the Centre announced on April 18 that the Railways will run ‘Oxygen Express’ to transport liquid medical oxygen and oxygen cylinders to different places. This shows the total lack of concern of the Central government during this grave crisis.
The Union Health Ministry has so far sought to obfuscate the second wave crisis by dishing out figures which hardly tell the real story of the alarming situation though it admitted that the daily positivity rate of Covid-19 in the country has doubled from 8 per cent to 16.69 per cent in the past 12 days. It takes pride in the fact that India took “only 92 days” to reach the mark of 12-crore vaccinations, the fastest country to do so, followed by the US which took 97 days and China which took 108 days. The cumulative number of Covid-19 vaccine doses administered in the country has crossed 12 crore as part of the world’s largest vaccination drive, the ministry claimed. Fact remains the country has a population of 135 crore which means not even 10 per cent have been covered by the vaccination drive.
Ever since vaccines were rolled out in the country, the Centre decided to monopolise procurement and distribution of the two vaccines seemingly to claim for itself all the credit for fighting the pandemic.
Meanwhile, reports of a sinister game being played out over production, supply and sale of the vaccines are surfacing. According to a report, the vaccine supply by the Serum Institute of India (SII) has been kept a secret by the Centre for a clause the SII agreed to while negotiating its manufacturing deal with Oxford-AstraZeneca. Under the purported agreement, SII has to sell a large number of doses to other countries for a profit. For this reason, it is learnt to have been producing more vaccines for foreign markets than for the people in the country. The Delhi High Court last month directed the Centre and the vaccine producers to file an affidavit giving the production details, while upbraiding the government for not ensuring the two companies fully utilised their production capacity.
It reflects poorly on the government that only after the spike in cases in the second wave, it has constituted Empowered Group-II and recommended to prohibit oxygen supply for industrial use. Likewise, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan announced on April 18 that there would be a 10 fold increase in the production of Covaxin by September while the manufacture of Remdesivir will be doubled to 74.1 lakh each month by May.
The government seems to have wasted the whole of 2020, one whole year, by not preparing the country and the people to face the present situation.