Herald View: Vaccines are not ‘free’, Mr Prime Minister

The staggering arrogance of the Union Government, which claims to be distributing both vaccines and food ‘free’ to Indians, has few parallels in the world

People standing in a queue for vaccination (Representative Image)
People standing in a queue for vaccination (Representative Image)

NH Web Desk

The staggering arrogance of the Union Government, which claims to be distributing both vaccines and food ‘free’ to Indians, has few parallels in the world. While most countries have vaccinated their people, the Government of India has stood out for claiming that vaccines are being given to everybody free. The claim is both misplaced and mischievous. Whatever the government spends is paidfor by the people by way of taxes. And this Government, more than any of its predecessors, has imposed a heavy burden of indirect taxes on ordinary Indians. Vaccines are therefore paid for by the Indian taxpayers and to patronisingly claim that the government is doing people a favour by giving them ‘free vaccines’ is like adding insult to injury.

The Government will next claim that it is laying roads ‘free’ or giving scholarships also ‘free’. It is also incorrect to claim that vaccines are being given to everybody. There is a shortage of vaccines in the country and not everybody is able to access them. A large number of Indians who can afford to pay, are paying for what is available in private hospitals while the poor have largely been left in the lurch. In terms of the percentage of fully vaccinated population, India was behind 92 countries in June, behind 96 countries in July and behind as many as 101 countries in August.

The inability of the Government to rapidly roll out the vaccination is also reflected in the rise of infections and in the Government’s decision to disallow local trains to run in several metro cities. To vaccinate all adults by the year-end, 85 to 90 lakh doses need to be administered every day. But in the month of July, the best that the country could manage was to administer 45 lakh doses a day, which means that both the claims made by the Government are incorrect. Indian taxpayers are paying the Government for making false claims. While the Government is busy splurging public money to promote a personality cult around Prime Minister Modi and in subtle political messaging, its failure to communicate to the people on more important issues is no less shocking. By all accounts the indigenously developed vaccine by Bharat Biotech, Covaxin, is efficacious. But nobody knows for how long. There is no explanation why the vaccine is yet to be approved by the WHO and regulatory bodies in the European Union and the United States.

There is no clarity yet on whether international travellers from India, who took jabs of the indigenous vaccine, would be able to do so ‘freely’. Nor is there any clarity on the various controversies that Bharat Biotech and the vaccine have faced and on the inquiry that is going on in Brazil. Did Bharat Biotech through a shadowy company in Dubai try to sell a half-baked, untested and ineffective vaccine to the Latin American country? If there was a quality issue, shouldn’t Indians have been told? We do not even now know whether a booster dose is required and if so, by when. When will younger Indians below the age of 18 be vaccinated and when will schools and colleges re-open? It’s the Government’s responsibility to clear the air and take people into confidence on a vital issue of public health.

But even as it is busy wasting public resources to make false claims, it is doing very little to inform and educate the public. Instead, it is adding to the prevailing confusion with multiple agencies and officials making conflicting claims.

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