Modi govt did not intend to vaccinate all Indians, leading to shortfall: Congress’ white paper on Covid

‘Govt placed its first vaccine orders as late as January 11, 2021, and even then ordered only 1.65 crore doses from the two domestic manufacturers,’ the white paper released by Congress points out

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NH Web Desk

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday released a white paper on Covid-19 pandemic accusing the government of having failed to prevent the second wave and warning that the third wave was impending.

“This white paper is a discussion that has taken place within the Congress structure and we have had a discussion with the experts and we have basically developed four pillars,” he said at a press conference held on the occasion.

“One pillar, of course, is the idea of understanding exactly what went wrong, which is the foundation of the white paper. Second pillar, as I have already said, is preparation for the third wave, which includes developing the critical infrastructure, which includes oxygen, which includes these other elements,” he said.

“Third pillar, again that we have been repeating again and again and again, is the idea of an economic assistance package. Covid is not just a biological phenomena, it is also an economic and social phenomena and that is why we have to make sure that the poorest people, the weakest people, small and medium businesses are provided the support, that they need to get through,” he added.

“The fourth and final element is a Covid compensation fund, where we give money to people who have lost loved ones, where we commit to them support of the Indian nation and say that- look, we stand with you in this difficult time,” Rahul Gandhi said.

The white paper says that despite knowing the magnitude of the universal vaccination drive that India required, the Modi government’s approach towards vaccination has been ad-hoc, short-sighted, unscientific, and inequitable.

“The Modi government did not intend to vaccinate all Indians and called this strategy ‘smart vaccination’, ignoring multiple warnings to the contrary, and thereby committed the critical error of not placing sufficient orders in advance, cascading to the vaccine shortages since April 2021,” it points out.

“Consequently, the government placed its first vaccine orders as late as January 11, 2021, and even then ordered only 1.65 crore doses from the two domestic manufacturers. It failed to provide adequate advance support to India’s vaccine manufacturers to expand production capacity leading to minuscule supply, and also delayed licensing Covaxin (developed jointly by ICMR and Bharat Biotech) to other Indian firms,” it adds.

The white paper suggests that the Centre should share a detailed weekly roadmap of progress towards its announced December 31, 2021 deadline to vaccinate all of India’s adults; collaborate with vaccine manufacturers, raw material suppliers, and foreign governments to ensure a steady supply of raw materials and vaccines for India; and invoke compulsory license provisions under the Patents Act 1970 to ramp up domestic vaccine production.

Here are some relevant extracts from the white paper:

Despite knowing the magnitude of the universal vaccination drive that India required, the government’s approach towards vaccination has been ad-hoc, short-sighted, unscientific, and inequitable.

The Modi government did not intend to vaccinate all Indians and called this strategy ‘smart vaccination’, ignoring multiple warnings to the contrary, and thereby committed the critical error of not placing sufficient orders in advance, cascading to the vaccine shortages since April 2021.

Consequently, the government placed its first vaccine orders as late as January 11, 2021, and even then ordered only 1.65 crore doses from the two domestic manufacturers. It failed to provide adequate advance support to India’s vaccine manufacturers to expand production capacity leading to minuscule supply, and also delayed licensing Covaxin (developed jointly by ICMR and Bharat Biotech) to other Indian firms.

It abdicated its responsibility to procure adequate, affordable vaccine supplies and offloaded this task onto states despite the disadvantages that they faced. It insisted on measures such as mandatory registration on the Co-WIN platform prior to vaccination for the 18-44 age group, which favoured digitally literate, urban middle classes and excluded the vast majority. It arbitrarily increased the dosage interval for Covishield to 12-16 weeks without evidence. Finally, it announced a target to vaccinate all adults by December 2021 without a roadmap.

Instead, the Modi government should have:

  • Placed orders globally for vaccines as soon as India faced the first wave.
  • Ramped up production capacity, by proactively providing grants to public and private sector units to upgrade and expand their facilities, and by invoking compulsory licensing for made-in-India vaccines and their raw materials.
  • Focused diplomatic efforts to secure access to vaccines, raw materials and peripherals for our population, before making international commitments.
  • Procured vaccines centrally and allocated them in a fair and transparent manner, giving states control over implementation.
  • Improved vaccine access by limiting digital, physical and financial exclusion.
  • Fixed dosing intervals for vaccines based on evidence of efficacy against different variants of the coronavirus.
  • Revealed a detailed roadmap and strategy on vaccinating India fully at the earliest with clear timelines of vaccine production and allocation.

The Modi government will finally do some justice to our people if it implements Key Policy Recommendations for the Way Ahead.

It should:

  • Ensure that all Indians receive free and universal vaccination in the shortest possible time frame. The government should share a detailed weekly roadmap of progress towards its announced December 31, 2021 deadline to vaccinate all of India’s adults.
  • Collaborate with vaccine manufacturers, raw material suppliers, and foreign governments to ensure a steady supply of raw materials and vaccines for India.
  • Invoke compulsory license provisions under the Patents Act 1970 to ramp up domestic vaccine production.
  • Allocate vaccines to states based on a transparent, justifiable formula, centered on evidence, equity and particular local requirements.
  • Make accurate vaccine-related and COVID-19-related data publicly available in a transparent manner.
  • Implement political and administrative measures including a national level, allparty committee to review measures to contain the pandemic, to improve coordination with state governments, and to collaborate with civil society.
  • Decentralise decision-making, management of critical resources and transfer funds to the district level to organise essential health services, from primary to tertiary care, and address regional imbalances.
  • Prepare for possible third and future waves by heeding expert advice, scaling up testing significantly (especially in rural areas), and pooling human resources at the state and district levels.
  • Provide ex-gratia relief of at least Rs. 4 lakh for all COVID-19 related deaths under the Disaster Management Act, 2005.
  • Implement relief measures including a minimum income support scheme for the poor and most vulnerable, continue free food supplies to the poor, reduce excise taxes on petrol and diesel, grant wage subsidies to Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs), increase budgetary support to the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and provide relief for the urban poor.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to take its toll on India, it is imperative that the Modi government set aside divisive and discriminatory political agendas, exclusionary policies, and implements these recommendations to help mitigate the ongoing second wave, and to ensure that India is well prepared to face future waves of the pandemic.

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Published: 22 Jun 2021, 7:29 PM