The nominations for Padma awards are open and the Union government is inviting recommendations until 15 September from people for Padma Vibhushan, Padma Bhushan and Padma Shri, India’s second, third and fourth highest civilian awards respectively.
On 27 August, as India reached the milestone of vaccinating half of its total adult population (over 47 crore people) with at least one dose and 15 per cent with both the doses, one couldn’t think of a better person this year to nominate for Padma Vibhushan than the chief executive officer of Serum Institute of India (SII) Adar Poonawalla.
In fact, it would be better if the government awarded SII with a Bharat Ratna, which would be the first such recognition for an institution in the country and will help pave the path to incentivising setting up more world class companies which India and Indians can be proud of. So far, only people are awarded this most prestigious state decoration.
Sample the vaccination numbers in the country. This month (at the time of writing), over 16 crore jabs have been administered (at the rate of about 52 lakh doses per day) with around 5 crore more doses still available with the states (including some 2 million doses in the pipeline which were expected to be supplied).
On 1 August, India had 3 crore odd doses in the stock and had administered around 47 crore doses in total. This shows that the monthly vaccine supply has increased to around 18 crore doses this month. Earlier, it was expected that supply would go up by a slight margin in September and by a huge margin in October, thanks to expected approval to Biological E’s Corbevax vaccine, 30 crore doses of which are contracted to be supplied to the Centre by this year’s end which translates to supply of 10 crore doses per month. That meant that the hope of administering 1 crore doses every day on sustainable basis can be done from October onwards.
However, if news reports are to be believed, Serum itself might supply 8 crore extra doses in September, radically changing the dynamics of vaccination in the country. “We have further enhanced the production capacity and will be able to supply approximately 20 crore doses of Covishield to the government and private hospitals,” Prakash Kumar Singh, SII’s director, government and regulatory affairs, is said to have written to the Union Health Ministry as per Hindustan Times. Covaxin‘s production is also set to increase by 2 crore doses in September given that its Ankaleshwar manufacturing plant started production on 29 August. This will mean a straightaway addition of 10 crore doses over 18 crore doses supply in August.
Even if the media report on Covishield turns out to be misleading, Serum’s contribution to India’s Covid-19 vaccination drive has been extraordinary. As of 25 August, around 88 per cent of total administered doses in the country were Covishield. That’s hugely impressive with seven months into the programme.
By Diwali, as per current projections, India should be able to administer 120 crore doses. That would be equivalent to fully vaccinating 65 per cent of India’s total adult population (though, in reality, percentage of people with both doses will be smaller and percentage of people with at least one dose will be higher). Nonetheless, it would be a huge achievement in the fight against Covid-19. And by the year-end, India would have produced enough doses to fully vaccinate 100 per cent of its adult population. This is no mean achievement and the man whose contribution would rank shoulders above the rest in achieving this feat is none other than Poonawalla.
That’s a good enough reason for him to be awarded with Padma Vibhushan or his institution with the Bharat Ratna.
Some may advocate that Bharat Biotech be given similar recognition. While, it’s a great company which has produced a world class vaccine, its contribution towards India’s vaccination drive isn’t nearly as impressive as Serum’s.
For, instance, India’s vaccination numbers could have been better had Bharat Biotech delivered on expectations. The Union Health Ministry put out a statement on 28 May that the Covaxin production would increase to 6-7 crore doses in July/August and to 10 crore doses in September. Reality is that only 7.3 crore doses of Covaxin were administered as of 25 August. And Covaxin’s production is likely to increase to 5 crore only in September and stay there till end of this year. Either Bharat Biotech didn’t correct the government’s high expectations or it failed to meet the ambitious targets, the end result is a setback for India.
This is not to downplay Bharat Biotech (again, a great company) or Covaxin (again, a great vaccine) but only to put their contribution in perspective. In fact, I would even advocate that its founder Krishna Ella also be awarded with a Padma award, perhaps Padma Shri or a Padma Bhushan. It’s pertinent to note that Bharat Biotech is a newer company in comparison to Serum and may play as big a role in helping fight future pandemics or existing health problems. There is no doubt that both Serum and Bharat Biotech are true jewels, ratnas, of India which all countrymen should be proud of. It’s time that we honoured them.
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