In January 2021, when the Union government approved emergency use of Covaxin, India’s first indigenously developed vaccine against Covid-19, the opposition parties came out all guns blazing against the approval.
Developed by Bharat Biotech in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research and the National Institute of Virology, Covaxin represents the ‘New India’, which can outcompete the best in the world.
This was a moment of pride, which every self-respecting Indian was celebrating, other than a group of people who have taken it upon themselves to malign India at every opportunity they get.
While the scientific community across the world welcomed the approval given to Covaxin, the first salvo at India’s vaccine was fired by media platforms that have zero or no expertise in science reporting.
“DCGI’s Covaxin ‘approval’ is political jumla. It reinforces idea of Modi’s Atmanirbhar Bharat” read the headline of an article posted on an online platform on 5 January 2021.The approval for Covaxin on trial mode was given on the 3 January 2021.
On 5 January, I saw another article on an international news platform, “Covaxin: What was the rush to approve India's homegrown vaccine?” The article quoted Congress leader and Member of Parliament Sashi Tharoor labelling the approval as, “chest-thumping vaccine nationalism”. The Health Minister of Chhattisgarh T S Singh Deo went so far as to say, “In my opinion, it [Covaxin] should not be allowed in the state. As of now I am not confident to tell people to accept this vaccine.”
“Chest-thumping vaccine nationalism” — in such perilous times, who thinks of such catch-phrases?
I must confess, I was blown away by the rhetoric, but I realised quickly that those writing these articles were unqualified to be commenting on the sanctity of a scientific process.
Articles such as these also made me realise that there was a concentrated effort at undermining India’s scientific temperament and a sinister design behind questioning the validity of a truly “Made in India Vaccine.”
Soon this scepticism, shared by a few elite but unqualified opinion-makers, found their way through to the Facebook pages and WhatsApp forwards — all this resulting in a ‘vaccine scare’ and ‘vaccine scepticism’ among the general public.
In my constituency Darjeeling, many elderly people forced by their half-informed-younger relatives and local conspiracy theorists had decided to forego vaccination because they had been convinced due to these misleading articles, posts and forwards that these “vaccines are unsafe”.
Bursting their bubble, White House Chief Medical Adviser Dr Anthony Fauci said recently, “the most recent data was looking at convalescent sera of COVID-19 cases in people who received the vaccine used in India, the Covaxin. And it was found to neutralise 617 variants… So despite the real difficulty that we're seeing in India, vaccination could be a very, very important antidote against this.”
I am yet to hear a word of apology from those who created scare against India’s indigenously developed vaccine.
Thankfully, even those who were refusing to get vaccinated earlier are now lining up at the vaccination centres.
The Second Wave — “Vaccine for All”
In spite of the negativities spread by those with vested interests, those with an axe to grind against the Union government and those who are desperately hoping for our nation to fail, vaccination process went at a brisk pace. Thanks to a robust framework developed by our Union Health Ministry and selfless dedicated healthcare workers, vaccination process has truly taken off across the country.
From 1 March, the frontline Covid warriors — health workers, police, paramilitary forces, sanitation workers, and disaster management volunteers received the vaccine.
In the next phase, all those over the age of 60, and those between the ages of 45 and 60 with one or more qualifying comorbidities were covered. From 1 April, all those above the age of 45 were made eligible for vaccination. From 1 May the government has decided to open the vaccine for all above the age of 18.
As our nation broke the record for administrating at least one dose of vaccination to 100 million people, those who had failed in creating scepticism against our indigenously developed vaccine, then started to question government’s decision to inoculate citizens in a phased manner. They started to rile up public emotions demanding “vaccination for all”.
In West Bengal, the healthcare system is in tatters. Such is the level of misgovernance that there was not a single government-run hospital that could be developed as a designated Covid hospital in all of north Bengal, which comprises eight districts.
Every government hospital was found to be woefully inadequate and lacking basic facilities required for a Covid hospital. The due credit for this level of criminal negligence should go to Mamata Banerjee, who is also the Health Minister of the state.
So imagine my surprise, when right before the elections, Banerjee demanded that states be allowed to purchase vaccination doses directly with state funds. Similar sentiments were echoed by many who are opposed to the Union government.
Following the timeline set earlier, the Union government has now declared that vaccination will be open to all above the age of 18 from 1 May.
Respecting the sentiments of those in the opposition, the Union government also liberalised the vaccine regime, and has permitted the state governments and private entities to procure vaccines on their own, if they so desire. This, the Union government hoped would help in speeding up the vaccination process.
Meanwhile, the Union government will continue to provide 50 per cent of the vaccination across the country, free of cost to ensure that no one who needs to get vaccinated is left wanting.
The Third Wave — “Vaccine Apartheid”
But as can be expected by now, the moment the Union government announced liberalising of vaccine regime, those who were earlier demanding that they be permitted to use state funds to procure vaccine, began to blame the central government for not handing out vaccines for free for all.
While, state governments like Assam, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Gujarat, have already announced that they will be providing vaccine to all their residents for free, those perpetually opposed to anything positive were quick to condemn the announcement.
A relentless critic of the Union government, Mamata Banerjee claimed, “Narendra Modi government, despite having enough money in its coffers, is 'reluctant"' to provide vaccines free of cost”. To think, she was the one who wanted to buy vaccines using “state funds” only a week or so ago.
Another well-known left leader tweeted, “India urgently needs rapid, free universal vaccination,” while one of his protegee labelled allowing states and private entities to procure vaccine if they want to, as “vaccine apartheid”.
I am not sure what that means, but this is perhaps derived from the same narrative generator as “vaccine nationalism”, all rhetoric without any substance.
The Silent Warriors
I remember, when the Covid crisis started in 2020, it was difficult to procure basics like PPE kits, N-95 masks, sanitisers, ventilators in our country. Today, our country is the second largest producer of PPE kits with an industry worth Rs 7,000 crore.
From Independence to 2020, we only had around 30,000 ventilators in the country, but in the past 12 months alone, our government has supplied additional 36,000 ventilators, all ‘Made in India’.
Pre-Covid, we only had three N-95 mask suppliers, today we have over 3,000 manufactures and suppliers and our domestic production capacity has risen to more than 8 lakh per day.
Following the ancient philosophy of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ (the whole world is one family) our country rendered selfless assistance to the world when it needed our help. Through the ‘Vaccine Maitri’ initiative we have been able to supply hydroxychloroquine to around 150 countries and vaccine to around 93 countries.
Today, when we are going through a difficult time, nations across the world are rushing in to support us. Countries like Singapore, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, France, Russia, Japan, Britain, Denmark, Germany, United States and European Union along with our neighbours Bhutan are sending important lifesaving drugs and equipment.
Our government has also deployed all it resources, for instance, to meet the current oxygen challenge, PM Cares Fund has sanctioned 1,213 new pressure swing adsorption oxygen generator plants to be installed in district headquarters and tier II cities across the country.
An additional 1 lakh portable oxygen concentrators will also be procured using PM Cares Fund to ensure that medical oxygen can be made available to even the remotest health centres of our nation.
India’s army, navy, air force, paramilitary forces have been deployed to bring in supplies and also to provide relief and support wherever possible. Our government is leaving no stone unturned to ensure that we get over this crisis at the earliest.
The confidence instilled by the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has, despite all the challenges facing our nation, helped citizens emerge stronger and better equipped from the current crisis.
Meanwhile, away from the glare of 24-hour news cycle, tweets, Facebook, WhatsApp and other social media presence, our vaccination drive is chugging along at a steady pace.
Frontline Covid warriors, administrators, law enforcement agencies and general public are joining forces to ensure that we achieve 100 per cent vaccination at the earliest.
I salute them all.
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