The Ignoble List: Super-Spreaders Of Vaccine-Hesitancy in India
From politicians and columnists to business tycoons and actors, here is a list of the famous people who created and contributed to vaccine-hesitancy in India.
Akhilesh Yadav, the supremo of Samajwadi Party made a statement in January 2021 that he would not take the Covid vaccine.
He termed the vaccine as 'BJP's vaccine' and asked how he could trust it.
Major television channels did not hesitate to telecast this blatantly anti-vaccine conspiratorial statement and there was no blanket condemnation of it from the usual band of eminent citizens and concerned intellectuals.
It is anybody's guess how many of his followers would have accepted these words of their leader as gospel truth and did not vaccinate themselves in the ongoing vaccination campaign.
The anti-vaccine statement made by Akhilesh Yadav was reinforced by senior Congress leader Rashid Alvi.
Coming out in support of Yadav, Alvi said: "The way the BJP and Prime Minister Modi have used agencies including CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation), Income Tax Department and Enforcement Directorate against Opposition leaders, I think there’s nothing wrong with it if Akhilesh Yadav fears that vaccine can be misused. The way the government is working against Opposition leaders, fear is justified"
Today the Chief Minister of Chhattisgargh may be asking the Central government for Covid vaccine supply but it was his health minister TS Singhdeo who went on a high voltage rant against Bharat Biotech's Covaxin.
'Its use should be avoided until the data has come out' he stated and then declared that it should not be allowed in the state at all. This was his statement: "In my opinion, it should not be allowed in the state. As of now I am not confident to tell people to accept this vaccine."
Vaccination-hesitancy was thus fuelled by high profile players in the state even as the second wave was building.
Amy Kazmin – the Chief of the 'South Asia' bureau of Financial Times is yet another high profile name who slandered India's vaccination drive.
'Indian PM’s reluctance to offer a vaccination photo-opportunity fuels speculation over his motive' was the sub-heading she used for her report.
After casting doubts by mentioning anonymous 'top Indian scientists' as having 'questioned New Delhi’s decision to use Covaxin — albeit in a “clinical trial mode” — without any efficacy data to prove that it curbs severe disease', she wrote that 'many doctors and nurses have balked at receiving Covaxin, leading to lower than expected vaccine turnout.'
She continued 'Some quip that the premier may have been secretly inoculated already — perhaps with an overseas vaccine, whose efficacy has been affirmed.'
When the foreign media slander India's vaccination drive can the local sepoys keep calm?
The next name on the list is of Rajiv Bajaj, for stating that Indians should take a middle path with respect to getting vaccinated and that between the risk of getting fever and benefit of vaccination against Covid-19, the risks outweigh the benefits.
Nitin Pai is a columnist at Print.in and he is also the director of the Takshashila Institution which calls itself 'an independent centre for research and education in public policy.'
He also fed into the anti-vaccine paranoia stating that 'other than to the highly credulous, it is pretty obvious that the Drugs Controller General of India’s ‘approval’ for Bharat Biotech’s indigenous vaccine candidate, Covaxin, was announced for extra-scientific reasons.'
Approval to Covaxin was pure 'political jumla' he wrote adding that it was 'just to reinforce reinforces idea of Modi’s Atmanirbhar Bharat'.
If the heading screamed these words that would prejudice a reader, deep inside the article were buried the line: 'The vaccine is perhaps quite safe and effective.'
Then on 19 January 2021, the same person listed out reasons why India would not see a big second wave of Covid-19. He ended his article advising: 'The risk of a second wave is small in most places across the country because most people have already been exposed. For the same reason, we might not need to be overly concerned about the new variants either.'
Then we have our Tamil Nadu-grown, evangelist crowd.
Even before vaccines could come out Angel TV, which is being run by Sundar Selvaraj, who is well known for his fantastic and fanatical claims, said that he would telecast a drama in which a believing Christian woman reveals to all the people that the Covid vaccine actually contains in it the 'mark of the beast'.
Meanwhile, the maverick BJP MP, Subramanian Swamy, for his part, started casting aspersions against Covishield.
Even as the expert panel of the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation was granting emergency approval for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, Subramanian Swamy tweeted:
Thol. Thirumavalavan of Viduthalai Chiruthaikal Katchi (VCK) also joined the chorus of anti-Covaxin political mob. When the first batch of 20,000 vaccines arrived at Chennai he tweeted that the Tamil Nadu government should not allow the use of the vaccines on the flimsy ground that the stage 3 trail data had not been released.
He further supported his statement by citing a death in Madhya Pradesh though it was then clear that it was not because of vaccination.
Tamil Nadu has a rich group of Luddite, conspiracy-seeking anti-vaccine activists .
‘Naam Tamilar ‘ supremo Seeman initially started with a negative campaign against the vaccines by questioning why Modi, Amit Shah and Nirmala Seetharaman were not taking the vaccines. However, later when actor Vivek died and a severe anti-vaccine campaign was launched under that pretext, Seeman announced that there was no connection between vaccination and the death of the actor.
Given the fact that ‘Naam Tamilar’ party worldview is associated with the fringe pseudo-science, this created quite a sensation.
The cinema actor Mansoor Ali Khan however takes the cake for his unabashed attack against not only vaccines but also his statement that to stop Covid-19, the tests should be banned and none should wear masks.
This totally dangerous rant was virally spread by youtube channels and meme makers.
That such a high-voltage campaign against vaccination was allowed in the middle of a national war against pandemic is almost unbelievable but not unexpected.
It shows to what depths a section of the media and a powerful section of the polity would stoop to just in their hatred for one man - Narendra Modi.
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