Many a slip between 'free vaccines' and delivery expose chinks in PM's 'Hope Trick'
While accusing the opposition of politicising the vaccination drive, the Government's free vaccine scheme, prodded by both the opposition and the Supreme Court, is on a publicity overdrive
Rs 250 for my mother’s first dose. Rs 850 for her second. Rs 780 each for mine and my househelp’s second dose. Thank you, PM Modi
I paid Rs1000 each to vaccinate my driver, domestic help, her son, my cook and my carpenter. First dose. It would have been difficult for them to afford one dose. So, no Mr. Prime Minister, thanks but no thanks
It was another surreal week when BJP spokespersons attacked the Congress for politicizing the vaccination drive while flooding newspapers and streets with billboards and advertisements promoting the Prime Minister and ‘free vaccines’. Well, as people know by now, not all vaccines are free. While the Union Government is now procuring 75% of the vaccines, 25% are still being procured by private hospitals and are being sold to people ‘who can afford it’. This is of course not always the case.
Not everyone who has received ‘free vaccines’ at camps is sure that actual vaccine has been administered. Several cases of spurious vaccine rackets have been busted. At many places, recipients of ‘free vaccines’ have not been given a proper vaccination certificate. In poorer areas in the national capital itself, flimsy pieces of paper with illegible writing have been handed over.
In Kolkata, actor Mimi Chakraborty called the police after her suspicion was aroused at a special camp. Police found that a group of impostors were posing as employees of the municipal corporation. In Mumbai, at a posh housing estate on SV Road, members of a gated community shelled out five lakhs of Rupees before their suspicion was aroused when they began receiving certificates from different hospitals in the city. A police complaint led to the arrest of five people and the disclosure that they had already organised nine such camps and defrauded people.
The mismanagement is such that it is next to impossible for people to know whether they have been administered a legitimate vaccine, spurious vaccine or just plain water. But the Government has gone to town claiming spectacular success in free vaccination.
States, though they no longer have to buy the vaccines, are still at a disadvantage. An exasperated Biju Janata Dal (BJD) national spokesperson Dr Amar Patnaik pointed out, “Look at co-operative federalism? States are allowed to raise only 37% resources but meet 58% of total expenditure in the country. The ‘Centre’ raises 63% of the resources but bears only 42% of the total expenditure.”
Union ministers as usual mocked Rahul Gandhi, who released a 150- page white paper on the pandemic’s mismanagement. Smriti Irani called head Amit Malviya, in a somewhat lame riposte, tweeted that before advising the government to manage things better, Rahul Gandhi should explain if he has taken the vaccine! TV anchors were not to be left behind. Several of them asked opposition spokespersons why they were not applauding the Prime Minister for the vaccination drive. It was clearly business as usual. In its enthusiasm to set a ‘world record’ on June 21, the first day of the new vaccination drive after the Supreme Court prodded the Union Government to procure vaccines centrally, BJP-ruled states went overboard. Triumphant messages of ‘Well done, India’ flooded TV screens, newspapers and social media with the Union Health Minister leading the charge saying, “Congratulations! 86.16 lakh COVID19 vaccine doses administered on Jun 21! Highest ever single day coverage across world!”
On an average, China has been administering 18.31 million vaccine doses a day since June 1, 2021, whereas India has been administering an average of around 5 million doses. As of June 23, 2021, India’s cumulative Covid-19 vaccination coverage is 29.46 crore since the beginning of the drive on January 16 this year. Apart from the fact that China had been vaccinating 20 million people a day in June, questions were quickly raised about the distribution of vaccines on June 21.
While the Government distributed 180% more vaccines on June 21 compared to the previous 20 days, the lion’s share went to BJP or NDA ruled states of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Bihar, Gujarat and Haryana. The six states together accounted for 58% of the vaccines distributed that day. On what basis was it done? Politics?
“Hoard on Sunday, vaccinate on Monday, and go back to limping on Tuesday. That is the secret behind the world ‘record’ of vaccinations on a ‘single day’. I am sure the ‘feat’ will find a place in the Guinness book of records,” tweeted a sarcastic former Union Minister P. Chidambaram referring to Madhya Pradesh.
The BJP ruled state had administered just 692 doses on June 20 before claiming to have administered a whopping 16.93 lakh doses the next day. BJP supporters jumped in to claim the low count on June 21 was because it happened to be Sunday. But figures for previous Sundays in June called their bluff.
Reports said that even the University Grants Commission had been forced to issue directives to colleges and varsities to thank the Prime Minister. But 24 hours after the ‘world’s biggest vaccination drive’, vaccination numbers plunged by 40%.
Opposition leaders reminded the Government that vaccination was a process, not an event or a one-day cricket match. “If the PM wanted to be thanked for just 24 hours, one can imagine his desperate need for endorsement,” quipped an observer while adding, “For once, just once, can’t BJP stop celebrating prematurely? It is grandstanding about 8 million jabs done today. If this run rate is to sustain even till end of July, we will need 310 million doses. Total production of domestic vaccines in July is less than 150 million.”
“No government should even think about taking credit for ‘successfully controlling Covid’ unless 40-50% of the country is vaccinated. You might have gotten lucky so far. But to consistently win against Covid, one needs to rely on scientific processes and policy, rather than luck,” cautioned Dr Faheem Younus from Maryland (US) on premature celebrations and triumphalism.